2018: My child greets me at Austin airport after I returned from my half-year fieldwork
Three summer months he spent with me in Anosovo and thereabouts
There is not a lot of words that I can use to describe the viscerality of missing the child while being away doing fieldwork. I can name it--viscerality--but the word does not do the work of description. Not once did I ask myself if I am sane at all sacrificing the irreversible time without my child for the sake of "collecting stories." No matter how important I think my work is, I still think being with my child is even more important. Yet time and again I do make the decision to go away and to leave my child for the care of other loving adults for extended periods of time. I will not try to justify it because I do not feel like it needs to be justified. I make this difficult decision, and I am quite proud that I make it. It appears to me that there is a tension in my own behavior not unakin to the paradoxes of the behavior of others that I am investigating.
"I am a mother. But, what is more to it, I am a doting mother. The dictionary defines 'doting' as 'foolishly or/and affectionately loving.' This is what I am, foolishly and/or affectionately loving.”
I am a mother. But, what is more to it, I am a doting mother. The dictionary defines "doting" as "foolishly or/and affectionately loving." This is what I am, foolishly and/or affectionately loving. If someone told me some time ago that I will be such a mother, or, that I will be a mother, I would not have believed. Yet here I am: scribbling faithfully every word that my child says, keeping his drawings, admiring his endless (in the mother's eyes) talents, and seeing in every innocent gesture he makes a glimpse of his future genius.
Well! When I went for my first ethnographic fieldwork in Siberia, in 2016, which encompassed three summer months, I left my child at home with his father. I discovered that every child's voice that I hear, be it at the airport, in the Moscow streets, or in the village of Anosovo, reverberates through my mind and bones as a voice of possibly my child. For a second every time I kept forgetting where I am and what I am doing there. The next year I took my child with me.
I took my child with me, knowing that the travel will be difficult if only for a reason of a long flight Austin - New York - Moscow, with a change of planes: since recently, there is no longer a direct flight Houston - Moscow. And then, another flight: Moscow - Irkutsk. For all the trouble, I might have left my son at home! But I told myself that my research is going to benefit from his presence: after all, he can draw; for the most part he is the only native English speaker in vicinity; he will get to improve his Russian, and I get to not be paranoid over the voices of random children. And yes, I can assign him drawings of the Siberian objects.
Seva did not draw any specifically Siberian objects on our travels, but he did draw a splendid mushroom in my fieldnotes pad. A mushroom which was no doubt emblematic of that legend that Anna Tsing relates in her Mushroom book. Here is that memorable passage: “I’ve read that when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, thousands of Siberians, suddenly deprived of state guarantees, ran to the woods to collect mushrooms.” (Tsing, 2005, 1).
I am going to adorn this page with Seva's (Sevochka's) drawings
Lately, there has been a conversation about mothers in academia, and in anthropology in particular. I am not aiming to somehow significantly contribute to these conversations, important though they are. But I do claim that the presence of one's child at the field, just as his or her absence, changes the way one perceives the field in a plenitude of unforeseeable ways. And although we are not in a position to know what the other, the ever-escaping our cognition other might think, we can reflect on how we think the other perceives the world they share with us. The child is that other, in all their irreducible otherness, who is perhaps the closest to what is self, and, in a way, more myself for me than I am. This is why the child's presence is not to be omitted in the reflections on the field.
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