Family, Motherhood, and SHA
My husband deserves much of the credit for my SHA experience, by way of logistics. In October 2012, I left him behind in a house newly purchased and piled to the ceiling with boxes, abandoning him to balance his demanding work hours with the needs of three small children.
As a chef, he circulates in an entirely different world than mine. His are long days after hours, working in the mediums of daily routine and careful inventory and transitory staff, while mine are spent in a constantly changing schedule of research and outreach and networking.
But what he has never failed to understand (and this is the important thing our career choices have in common) is my zeal for my job. He watches me climb onto my soapbox and prattle on about the importance of history education and the role of museums, just as I listen to his musings about seasonal menu change and problematic food cost. When I first mentioned SHA, he told me, “Well, of course you should apply,” because, despite my zeal, opportunities for me to fully engage in learning are rare.
When I got on a plane to Indianapolis, nine weeks pregnant with our fourth child, it was with the understanding that the separation would be difficult on both ends. From Indy, I struggled to justify leaving my family, all the while rejoicing in the learning and relationships I was building there. The first conversation I had over the phone with my daughter ended in tears, for both of us, when she realized that I would be gone for three weeks and not three days. From Minnesota, my husband struggled to keep everyone afloat.
That three-week separation was a tremendous lesson for me. The content of SHA and the incredible people I got to know have been a current of encouragement since I returned. But it was really the time away from home that taught me about the community necessary to make my museum work live in harmony with my wife-mommy work. In Indy, I listened and discussed with my colleagues, who were very supportive as I battled morning sickness and cried openly in class. In Minnesota, my family moved Heaven and Earth to make sure that I could be in a place that would allow me to be better at the job I love.
Ultimately, it was a cost-benefit analysis. There’s nothing more important to me than my family, and as a working mom, I’ve always wrestled with the dilemma of leaving my kids behind. The time spent at SHA, however, eased my fears that I was abandoning my children for my job. Instead, I’m showing them that I contribute to the family income by way of a passionate mission to serve and educate. If I love what I do, and my children can clearly see that, it fosters confidence in their ability to choose a path that inspires them.
The community of colleagues and the community of family continue to prop me up as I grapple with the demands of my profession. Despite the difficulty of being away those three weeks, it was time well-spent. I found new motivation from my colleagues, both at SHA and here at the Minnesota Historical Society, and a deeper respect for the contributions of my family. We all have unique cheering sections – be it kids or spouses or pets or parents or co-workers – and it’s a great benefit to our work when their support allows us to be invested in all the things that matter to us.
Jessica Ellison (SHA ’12), Communications Specialist, Minnesota Historical Society