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Living in the World of Ideas: my life as the daughter of two professor-parents I have always lived my life by semesters. The Christmas tree never goeswent up until after finals week. Spring break usually consisted of going down to southern Utah for the weekend because my parents had to teach the rest of the week. And when my parents say their marriage is all about politics and chemistry, it’s not a figure of speech. My mom, Jennifer Nielson, is a chemistry professor; my dad, Daniel Nielson, is a political science professor. Both teach at BYU. When other students discover I am the daughter of two professors, they sometimes ask if I get a full scholarship tofrom BYU. I don’t, —just half, like children students with only one professor-parent. I often joke that I’ve had to make my own boxed mac-n-cheese enough times to warrant the other half of the scholarship, but the truth is, I did not have absentee parents (although they are absent-minded professors to be sure). My parents, thanks to the flexibility of their departments, were able to plan their teaching schedules and office hours so that someone was always home when we got home from school. They always made an effort to attend as many of our cross-country meets, band performances, or singing gigs as possible. I would protest, “I know you’re busy, you don’t have to come.” But my parents always knew that supporting me in my activities and passions was important to me, even if I didn’t know it. Mom says their academic lifestyle has really lendedt itself to family life. But that does not mean that the way my parents live their life has succeeded without effort. Mom says when she started teaching again after a 5-year hiatus, she put sticky notes on the dashboard of our van to remind her to really listen to us and be with us. She also had a rear-view mirror pendant of the DreamWorks character Gumby, to remind her to always be flexible. Dad always had made time for a nightly round of “Worldwide Wrestling Dad” or “Dr. Kisses and Mr. Tickles.” When I was a kid and people had landlines, I often answered the phone to a familiar question: “Is Dr. Nielson there?” I would reply, “Which one?” I was born when my parents were both in grad school. First Mom took three months of school off for me, then Dad did. When they finally graduated, they let their three–and-a-half-year-old daughter (me), take the picture of them with their dissertations. I’m sure the smiles on their faces reflected their triumph over six years of sacrifice and sleepless nights, but I’ll never know—the picture only captures them from the neck down. My parents view each other as equals in every arena, not just parenthood. “We’ve always been intellectual equals,” Dad pointed out. Then he laughed and shook his head. “No, your mom’s always been smarter than me.” Mom identified Dad’s growth-mindset as a major reason for a marriage that is very much an “open forum.” “Dad’s not threatened by a smart woman. He wants to learn from everyone—from his undergrads to the best in his and other fields.”

Commented [ML1]: Do you still do this? It would be really awesome if we could make this present tense too. But since our audience is primarily BYU and everyone knows we don’t get a spring break, it might feel just fine to them. Commented [ML2]: Some connecting punctuation. A colon works too. Or a semicolon or period, if the second half gets turned into a full sentence.

Commented [ML3]: Although I like this, I’m not sure it fits. Would you consider taking it out? If you love it, let’s find somewhere else more appropriate to put it. Commented [ML4]: I am inferring that all the kids are out of the house. Could you include somewhere something to the extent of “while we were living at home”? That will make it crystal clear what stage your family is in.

Commented [ML5]: I think this change could reinforce the idea that it wasn’t just easy.

Commented [ML6]: Is it THE picture (not officially, but as far as your family is concerned)? I don’t think it matters too much, but I wondered.

Commented [ML7]: Can you think of a way to re-word this? I wonder if some readers might get confused.


I remember walking into their bedroom for a goodnight kiss:; both of them sitting up in bed with , glasses on, reading by the light of their bedside table lamps, holding hands between page turns. Coming I would come home from cross-country practice to the two of them sitting on their corner of the kitchen table, pensive faces, alternating typing and reading. Dad says it’s easier to coordinate when you work on the same corner of the kitchen table. Except that sometimes, in order to get his attention, Mom emails him the message, “Hey, can we talk?” It was at the family dinner table, with a stack of Organic Chemistry tests looming at one end, that my sister, brother, and I were most immersed in my parents’ life of ideas. Often, dinner table conversations ended with Dad launching into yet another lecture, complete with citations for the studies he was referencing. We have heard some of them so many times, my siblings and I can almost quote them: the Ketchup lecture, the Deliberate Practice lecture, the Flow lecture. When my friends came to dinner, I was embarrassed and exasperated by Dad’s tyranny over the conversation. But, more often than not, I would find myself using the very same citations in my own conversations throughout the week. My parents also encourage their children to research and experiment. One day, when my brother was about two years old, my mom discovered him conducting an experiment on the living room carpet. He had assembled different dry drink mixes (hot chocolate, Gatorade, etc.) into little piles and was methodically pouring various liquids (apple juice, milk, etc.) onto each of them in turn. Seemingly unphased by the damage, Mom picked up her grubby baby and cooed, “My little scientist.” Every time my siblings or I so much as stubbed a toe or brokeeak a nail, my dad caomes running, “Don’t worry, I’m a doctor!” HUsually, however, my professor parents are so down-to-earth about their degrees that when we lived in Williamsburg, Virginia, while Dad did a sabbatical at the College of William and Mary, most people in our ward did not know Mom had a PhD. But because of the path my mom took, with all its flexing and compromise, I have never doubted my ability to pursue a science major as a woman or reach my dream of becoming a neuroscience professor, even if that is not what happens in the end. Dad says that being married to Mom means, “we get to review unknown parts of our ignorance together. It’s like taking a vacation, but to a new spot in the world of ideas.” Both Honors graduates, they’ve always wanted to teach an Honors class together on famous couples in intellectual history, and how those couples accomplished more because they were together. Seems pretty appropriate to me.

Commented [ML8]: Is emailing him a desperate measure or does she do it to be funny? The word “except” makes it seem like emailing him is the only way. But surely she could have shoved him if she had to? Could there be the slightest bit of clarification? Commented [ML9]: Did it ever feel like you were boxed in by them? That could enrich your use of the word “immersed.”

Commented [ML10]: Do you mean, encourage you to research and experiment as they do? Or do you mean, encourage you and converse with you and feed you and etc.? It sounds like the second. If it’s the first, could we place “also” (or something similar) closer to “research and experiment”?

Commented [ML11]: If this goes against your style, can you make the two parenthesized lists more different from each other?

Commented [ML12]: I love that. Commented [ML13]: This paragraph seems a little less whole than the others. Could you blend this chunk about you into the previous paragraph? It could work well because your brother is being encouraged by her too. Maybe the first half of this paragraph could be shrunk or moved (to the part about him making time for Mr. Tickles, perhaps?). It could also be turned into a whole new paragraph, if you want to make that work. I think such an adjustment would help the reader’s train of comprehension.


Nielsen2 by Catie