The Story of Goldilocks and the Lawnmower Thieves: Parenting and Journaling in the Profession

 Jeanne Marie Rose
Penn State University, Berks

how to interact with this presentation

The goal of this presentation is to consider sustainable writing practices that support your “academic” and “personal” selves. We recommend starting with Jeanne’s narrative below, which provides a thoughtful framework for this work. Then, we encourage you to use the writing prompt to begin your own reflection. Finally, we offer several of Jeanne’s journal entries as examples of journaling as a sustainable practice.

  1. Journal prompt
  2. Journal entries

You also can download a PDF version of this presentation by clicking here.

a narrative

Since my son was born in 2011 (five years after my tenure and promotion), I’ve published exactly 2,500 words. I’ve written many more—detailed lesson plans to aid my forgetful brain, endless emails to the students I no longer have time to meet in person, and to-do lists galore. I’ve also rekindled a habit of regular journaling, which I had done on and off for many years, in an attempt to grapple with academic parenthood.

I felt isolated in early motherhood. I was experiencing all of these things that I felt a need to process:

how to reconcile my cynical worldview with the promise and hope of nurturing an infant, how to go to mommy and baby classes and feign kinship with women young enough to be my daughters, how to recalibrate a marriage organized around mutual independence and professional accountability.

Estranged from my work and my colleagues (and vastly unsuccessful in doing scholarly work from home), journal writing became a way to use my brain, to answer an intellectual need that wasn’t being met. What started as late-night ramblings written with a restless baby in my arms has grown into a way to make sense of parenting in the context of my scholarly expertise.

baby reading

“Darth” reading as a baby

My journaling coincides with the profession’s interest in narratives that give voice to the experience of mothering/parenting. In a 2011 special issue of Composition Studies devoted to “Wo/men’s Ways of Making It in Writing Studies,” editor Jennifer Clary-Lemon explains that contributors “talk about what it means to work in a field that consumes us, and choose to parent children at the same time” (9). My journals have functioned similarly. As my son began to develop his language skills, my journaling shifted from survival strategy to a meditation on the inevitable intersection of the personal and the professional. I was (and am) fascinated by his process of coming to communication, of hearing my language replicated and modified in his, of seeing his creativity and his fumbles. I’ve reflected on the value of storytelling as literacy practice, rationalizing the significance of repetition in the oral tradition as I bemoaned telling the story of a ring of lawnmower thieves led by a rogue Goldilocks again and again. I’ve contemplated the case-sensitivity of my son’s iPad password in relation to his emerging literacy. I’ve considered the pedagogical implications of parenting experience (rendering me simultaneously stricter and more generous), and I’ve justified using my mommy voice when chastising thesis writers about their failure to make “good choices.”

toddler reading

“Darth” reading as a toddler

Through journaling, I’ve been able to keep my intellectual interests in language and literacy alive and maybe even use them to more effectively parent. I’ve also seen a shift in my self-orientation—I no longer feel so distanced from my work as a literacy scholar (for instance, when I think about my son’s language in relation to literacy and orality, code-switching, and language and power), even if I still feel somewhat at a remove from our field. In a sense, I am constantly reminding myself of the knowledge I have while also keeping my scholarly writing muscles limber for a time when I’ll be able to use them more regularly. I keep my journal in my briefcase, and I jot ideas down when I’m waiting in my office for students, sitting at T-ball, or taking a break from the grading load. I’m old-school enough to opt for pen and paper, but today’s electronics create many more possibilities.

Although my own experience is highly linked to parenting, journaling can serve as a general sustainability practice for negotiating the personal and the professional. Together, I’m hoping we can explore journaling as an invigorating outlet for scholarly engagement. Let’s consider reflective writing’s potential to generate enthusiasm and spur problem-solving in personal, professional, and pedagogical arenas, particularly when thoughts and ideas that emerge in journal entries find an application beyond them.

works consulted

Clary-Lemon, Jennifer. “Editor’s Note.” Composition Studies, vol. 39, no. 1, 2011, pp. 9-11. JSTOR,

Cucciare, Christine Peters, et al. “Mothers’ Ways of Making It—or Making Do?: Making (Over) Academic Lives in Rhetoric and Composition with Children.” Composition Studies, vol. 39, no. 1, 2011, pp. 41-61. JSTOR,

Danberg, Robert. “On (Not) Making It In Rhetoric and Composition.” Composition Studies, vol. 39, no. 1, 2011, pp. 63-72. JSTOR,

Hidalgo, Alexandra. “Alto Precio: Love, Loss, and Rebellion in Raising Bilingual Children.” Technoculture, vol. 6, 2016,

Marquez, Loren. “Narrating Our Lives: Retelling Mothering and Professional Work in Composition Studies.” Composition Studies, vol. 39, no. 1, 2011, pp. 73-85. JSTOR,

Owens, Kim Hensley. Women Writing Childbirth: Women’s Rhetorical Agency in Labor and Online. Southern Illinois UP, 2015.

Pantelides, Kate. “On Being a New Mother–Dissertator–Writing Center Administrator.” CCC, vol. 65, no. 1, 2013, pp. 28-29, JSTOR,

Perl, Sondra. “Composing a Pleasurable Life.” Women/Writing/Teaching, edited by Jan Zlotnick Schmidt, SUNY P, 1998, pp. 239-54.

image source

Kiran Foster. (2011). Notes [cover image]. Available through Creative Commons.


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