Ada Lovelace Day 2010: In honor of my mom of science

When I signed up to do this Ada Lovelace thing, I knew I'd have a few options on my hands.

  • I could research obscure women  that needed to be brought out to public view.
  • I could name women in tech or science you probably have heard of already (but possibly not as much as their male counterparts).
  • Or I could go straight for home, to the first woman of science I ever met (since I shot out of her womb) - my mom.

I'm mentioning my mom in part because I want to give encouragement out there to the working moms of tech and science, who think "yikes  this is tough doing both" and need to know that the struggle matters. Kids watching you struggle, matters.  

Mom went back to work after my littlest sister was born, in the 70s. She had staff privileges in several hospitals, a private practice and an Ivy League medical school degree that later morphed into another public policy-type degree from yet another Ivy League school after all the kids were grown. As mentioned elsewhere, she went to medical school at a time very few women did, and if they were let in, there were very few of them.

As we kids were growing up, we heard the signals of the changing times. If my Dad had political battles and slights because he was Japanese American, he went jogging and we didn't hear much about it. My mom being more of a talker, we would hear about it.

There was one hospital doctor who we kids all knew over the dinner table as "That Turkey Dr. ____ " because he was the doctor who was always snide to my mom about her being a woman. (Mom used the word "turkey" in her desire to keep us expletive-free). When Mom and Dad shooed us away to "talk medicine" after dinner in the kitchen, sometimes it was about stuff like that. Her professors in medical school has given her crap too btw - just finishing her degree meant gaining a thick enough skin to ignore that stuff.

There's this poem of mine  that depicts one of those scenes from childhood. A scene where you just do not want to be there, as your parent is determined to embarrass you and all you can do is slink down into the seat. Years late, you realize not only was that an important moment of outrage and one you should have been proud to witness (but you were too young and dumb to understand), it was an event that left its imprint on you and how you lived your own life.

Mom was a little flustered when I first read the poem below out to a public audience: "After all dear, I don't want people to think I scream all the time..." but later in the phone call she admitted, she was still mad at that guy in the poem.   I think that's ok. It's not required that "she be a better person" just cause some dude didn't have it in him to be a decent one.

As for the title - Autobiography - well -  I'm female in technology and there are plenty of people in my 15-year career who have directly or directly, told me I couldn't be here. If I hadn't witnessed the below, it would have been harder to decide they were all turkeys.

Happy Ada Lovelace Day Mom!


Your mother. Your mother is screaming

at someone else, not you. Your mother

is screaming at a stranger, some guy

with a red tie and a limp mustache,

some guy who hasn't eaten enough

protein, looks like his hair is falling

out, too greasy, no sleep, she's screaming

out the window of the big blue Valiant,

she's screaming words you remember

for the rest of your life, you remember

she's screaming at the stringbean

parking lot attendant to Leonard Morse

Hospital, she's pulling her face up closer

to his face, he's edging back into the yellow,

the asphalt reserved for hospital staff,

for the medics with staff privileges

and she's driving forward in a roar

and she's screaming for the four

women in the Yale class of '65

she's screaming for all the men who

said she shouldn't be here on this spot,

grinding the steering wheel she's screaming

so her daughters will remember:

you thought because I was a woman

I couldn't be a doctor.