Gail Cornwall Writer

Gail’s work has been published online by
The Atlantic / The Washington Post / The New York Times / Salon / The San Francisco Chronicle / Scary Mommy / Parents Magazine


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The most shocking thing about this tweet being commented on so widely (other than it reaching more than just my cousin) is watching folks read their own situations into it. For thousands of mothers it resonated. Hundreds of fathers and many from adult-only families sent supportive messages as well. And yet a small minority have taken to multiple social media platforms to tell me how self-centered and unprofessional I am.

To them I’ll just say, read. Read the details I posted on the Twitter thread. Read others' comments there and notice which ones were hugely popular and which were not. Read the actual text of the tweet. Read this response.

Let's start with "taking personal responsibility." Please notice that I cop to my error right up front. The only reason you know I screwed up is because I assigned myself that blame at the get-go.

Second, my children are not irrelevant to the discussion. That information was and is salient because I confused Eastern and Atlantic time by rushing to put the appointment on my schedule while being beckoned to resolve a dispute over headphones, fetch a bagel, sort out a Zoom connection, answer texts from the school's principal, and either satisfy or rebuff 1,000 other requests for my mental bandwidth. These are asks I would not be faced with were school in session. (Also, come on, why is the time zone on one side of the U.S. named after its ocean and the other not only not similarly named but placed confusingly adjacent to ... Sorry, I digress.)

After getting the email from the assistant quoted in the tweet, I responded, explaining my situation and asking for another chance. I heard nothing from either the professor or his assistant. Only then did I post my tweet.

Speaking of the tweet, read the last line again. Actually read it, rather than reacting to what you think it means. I tweeted, not to shame him (you'll notice I declined many requests to name name), but because I sat at my desk and experienced a mini-tragicomedy. It was both hilarious and crushing to know my work product on an article about perfectionism had been impacted by my lack of perfection. In that moment I knew - and remember, I am the person with the most facts here, the one best situated to assess the causal relationship between the children and the mistake - that I couldn’t reasonably strive to be both perfect and a mother during this moment in history.

Why do I keep making it all about me? (Many have asked using just that phrasing.) Because it was a tweet about my emotional state, about what that realization felt like.

Now, was there a subtext that I wish he’d acknowledged my plight in some way? Would I like to think that in his shoes I would have at least sent something along the lines of “I’m afraid that was my only availability in what is a packed schedule”? Yes, of course. But to those saying I'm "acting entitled," please hear this: Wanting something and saying I’m entitled to it are not the same thing. (Otherwise, anyone with a crush would be an incel.)

In the Twitter thread and elsewhere on Facebook, the debate became a question of whether he should or should not have granted me a second time slot. That centers him in what began as a conversation about the impossible being asked of mothers right now. (All working parents, yes, but data bears out the assertion that people who identify as mothers have been hit harder.)

Putting a spotlight on - by which I mean drawing Cousin Carl’s attention to - how this subset has been uniquely impacted by the pandemic does not mean I do not value anyone else's experience. It doesn't mean the professor's time and effort don't matter. It doesn’t mean yours don't matter. No one is saying that.

And the problem is, attacking a straw man negates the experience of the many women propelling this tweet, asking to be seen.
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2 months ago  ·