Go to previous post:
Attention all webloggers.

Go to Electrolite's front page.

Go to next post:
Getting it right.

Our Admirable Sponsors

September 10, 2003

Science fiction subculture politics alert. Anthologist, critic, and mother Kathryn Cramer has a long, calm, and detailed weblog post about the real-world ramifications of trying to attend science fiction conventions with small children in tow, and what the “child care” offered at even the better conventions generally entails. Must reading for SF convention runners, many of whom I know read Electrolite at least sometimes. [09:13 PM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Science fiction subculture politics alert.:

Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2003, 03:27 PM:

Since, as happens all too often, I find that I am for whatever reason unable to make the "post a comment" section of Kathryn's weblog work, I'm afraid that I'm going to take the liberty of posting a long response to Kathryn's post in Patrick's weblog. Apologies, Patrick.

I will begin by saying that I disagree from the get-go on the value of taking children to conventions in the first place, even nursing infants from whom one does not wish to be separate for obvious reasons, even when one is up for an award or really, really wants to go to a convention for whatever reason.

Anyway, here's the long comment I attemped to post on Kathyrn's weblog:

As the mother of a 7, nearly 7.5-yo, I have a great deal of sympathy for other parents as well as significant interest in this topic.

However, I do not believe it is the responsibility of the convention to provide childcare for children who are too young to attend the convention. They can provide help--perhaps helping people form babysitting cooperatives (I'll watch your kids and mine on Friday morning so you can do panels, and then you'll take mine and yours Friday afternoon, so I can do panels), perhaps by making contracts with bonded babysitting services or mother's helpers services or local universities which have babysitter programs.

But, speaking as a mother, I would not want a teenager I did not know and who was not in some way credentialed watching over my child for a significant period of time. I want babysitters who know their stuff, particularly when I am far from home. I want a sitter who knows CPR, or at least the Heimlich Maneuver, who knows what to do in an emergency beyond dialing 911 (when I was a teenage babysitter myself, I took first aid training and knew the locations of all nearby hospitals). I want babysitting that conforms to local regulations wrt to # of caregivers per # of children, _especially_ if I am going to be leaving my child in care for a significant portion of the day.

I am also concerned about liability issues--should the convention have to bear such a burden?

What if a child is ill during a convention and infects all the other kids s/he is in care with? Adults come home with convention crud all the time. Yeah, I know illness is a risk our kids take every day, and diseases whip through schools like wildfire, but still. Would convention childcare have to accept an obviously sick child? Would convention goers expect accomodations to be made--separate care for the sick and the well?

I don't want my child fed warmed over, packaged mac-and-cheese or other supposedly "kid friendly" food. That's not what my kid eats--she eats regular people food, including salads and vegetarian sushi. I would rather reclaim my child for meals so that I can spend some time with her in the course of what is usually an extremely long day rather than leave her without me from 9 or 10 in the morning until midnight.

I'm lucky in having a kid who can eat a meal with a table full of adults and behave herself, I know that, but even when I am working a convention, I am my daughter's mother first, and that means one of my primary responsibilities is to be part of her life. Why take her to the convention at all if I'm not going to see her?

When my daughter was a breast-fed infant, I took her to a convention in Chicago and hired a series of bonded babysitters for both days and evenings. Sometimes my daughter would have one sitter for the afternoon and a different one after dinner. Luckily, at 7 months, she was pretty cool with it. I never left her with sitters for a whole day, just a morning or afternoon, and of course, evenings until midnight or so (I'm not a late partier myself).

When my daughter was just about two, I took her to Arizona for a World Horror Convention. My mother, who had never been to the southwest, came with us and provided childcare. Even so, I spent a significant portion of each day with my child.

Since that trip, she has not been to a science fiction convention. We have been on trips where she has spent time in childcare, though. Twice we have been to the equivalent of a mini-con for Single Mothers by Choice, at a dude ranch in upstate NY (where I was the programming chair as well as speaking on and attending discussions). The ranch provided "camp" for older children and babysitters for infants. Most of the caregivers were local teens but they were closely supervised by adults, and these were teens who did this every summer. For infants and toddlers, each teenager was responsible for _two_ children. For the older children, each teenager was responsible for no more than five children.

Moms paid extra fees for babysitting and tipped the sitters. Some of the teens would do evening babysitting as well, and for evenings, moms paid the sitters directly (during the day, the fees were paid to the dude ranch, which paid the teens, and tips were handed directly to the teens). Children were returned to their parents for lunch and could be signed up for both morning and afternoon or either morning or afternoon sessions.

When my daughter was 3, she hated this. They spent most of the day watching TV and playing indoors, except for an afternoon swim. When she was 5, however, she loved it--because there was a real program of activities for the kids that age and older.

But this system worked really, really well for the parents. And most of the parents at the dude ranch used it, not just us single moms.

I'm hoping that my mom and daughter will come to DC for World Fantasy Con this year. Washington is one of our favorite places. But if my mother chooses not to come, I won't be bringing my daughter. She'll stay with my mother, which is what she has done for every convention I've attended since her birth except the ones mentioned here.

I believe that conventions are not really good places for young children. I recognize that that is a hardship, especially if you enjoy conventions or are up for awards. But as parents, we have made commitments to our children--to give them many things, including our time, particularly when they are young. Perhaps most importantly, we have committed ourselves to looking out for their best interests. For the most part, in my opinion, regularly carting young children around the country--a disruption of the routine and comforting familiarity that most children thrive on--and leaving them for long stretches of time with little-known babysitters of unclear caliber is not looking out for their best interests.

Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2003, 05:17 PM:

Kathryn Cramer's blog looks very nice, but I've now tried three times to post a comment in it - once this morning, twice this evening - and in the morning it just hung and refused, in the evening it crashed and gave me an error message. So, following Melissa's example, this is the long comment I would have posted there if I was able.
I've never had to take a small child to a convention, but my impression has always been that they're pretty much non-child-friendly and non-parent-friendly environments - the odd creche notwithstanding. There are plenty of fans who will happily entertain a well-behaved child for short periods of time, and fortunately many children of fans are the kind of children you can ask to sit down quietly with a book for an hour, but there are many fans who are positively objectionable to and about all children, and all parents who bring children with them to cons.

Slash cons, which are nearly always all-women, always small to very small, and literally everyone knows everyone else, are in a slightly different category. At one slash con, a woman had brought her six week old baby, and I and another fan spent an hour keeping the baby quiet and talking about slash music vids while the mother was on a panel. She'd brought her baby with the full encouragement of the con organiser, and we weren't the only fans who ended up babysitting for an hour or so while in the slash library or the fan room. Parents (well, mothers) have good reason not to want children at the Poll Parrot age at the con with them ("Mummy? What's 'rape fantasy'?") but babies are basically furniture. I only know of one slash con organiser who bans babies from her cons as a point of principle and she's a disgruntled over-controlling queen type BNF.)

For about 10 years child care was my moonlighting work - I looked after kids part-time ages 2 to 14, and while I'm (or was) pretty good at it and enjoyed it as much as I've enjoyed working at anything, I'd never, ever make it a full-time career, and there are two reasons. One, the pay is shit. Two, it's a job that gets virtually no respect from anyone - often, not even from parents.

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2003, 05:59 PM:

I think your comment has appeared there, and several times. (I’ve noticed other MT blogs that seem to have this problem — not sure why others don’t.)

Derryl Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2003, 06:02 PM:

Yeah, my posting got disappeared as well.

Seems to me that if the biggest librarians' conference in Canada (CLA, not nearly the size of ALA) can't supply childcare - my wife babysat for a friend while she presented - then an SF con with a smaller female/male ratio is unlikely (Wiscon aside) to provide same.

Next year I may bring my oldest to a regional con, since he'll be 8. But since he also has a life-threatening peanut allergy, he won't be involved in any childcare situation. He'll be with me or with friends I trust.

But, if it was so important for both Jo and me to be at a con (and she's not in any hurry to attend one), then I think I'd be investigating a local licenced nanny service who can rent me one for the weekend. Luckily, the boys have two sets of grandparents within 8 hours' drive, so unlike Kathryn and David, that's a better option for us. Plus, neither one is in diapers or breastfeeding anymore.


David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2003, 06:04 PM:

Also, as someone who as a young child was carted not only all around the country but all around this country, Europe, and the Middle East, I’d like to point out that there’s more than one kind of “routine and comforting familiarity.” I’m sure I have suffered lasting ill effects of one kind or another, but I sure wouldn’t trade away that part of my childhood to get rid of them.

aphrael ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2003, 08:34 PM:

David - it's a little bit different, but my mother was raised on a series of military bases because her father was an active duty air force chaplain. They moved every year or two, leaving no sense of routine and comforting familiarity; she resented it the entirety of her life.

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2003, 11:19 PM:

Duel of the anecdotal evidence! :) My mother went through the same thing as the daughter of a naval aviator, and — aside from the regrettable incident where she destroyed all her comic books, rather than go to the trouble of packing them one more time — seems not to have been too bothered by it.

But what a strange world it would be if we were all alike, eh?

Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2003, 03:06 AM:

That's odd, David, because all three times I checked and refreshed Kathryn Cramer's blog page to see if my comment had made it - and it hadn't.

Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2003, 10:39 AM:

Speaking as someone who has been there and done that with regard to small children and sf conventions (there is nothing quite like turning into a full-time sf/fantasy freelancer the same year that your youngest child turns out to be twins), I have to say that Kathryn Cramer has a point. Several points, in fact.

At best, sf/fantasy cons tend to be indifferent to issues of parenting and childcare unless something like the presence of active parents of very small children on the concom happens to focus their attention on the matter. I was fortunate; the years when my children were most in need of childcare and babysitting at conventions turned out to be the same years when a large portion of NESFA seems to have had the same problem. This made Boskone in the early through mid-nineties one of the few cons we could attend and actually count on having an hour or two now and then to ourselves.

It's all very well to say that it's up to the parents of small children to make the adjustments, and in practice that's what's going to happen anyway, because if it comes to a choice between adjusting or staying home . . . well, one adjusts. But life as the parent of a small child can seem, at times, to be about nothing but adjustments (if there are crowns in heaven, there's a special set adorned with extra-glittery diamonds for those unbechildered friends of people with children who don't flinch and gradually fade away once the kids show up) -- and I certainly don't think that one should have to suffer implications of Bad Mommyhood simply for having the temerity to point this out.

LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2003, 11:51 AM:

What Doyle said, in spades. (I tried to post something to this effect on Kathryn's site as well, and it blew up on me, too...)


David W. ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2003, 12:27 PM:

When my former wife and I attended conventions with our infant, we took turns caring for him so we could each have some time to pursue things that would have been difficult to do with children. It worked fairly well. I didn't expect the small cons I attended in the midwest to have childcare, given their limited resources and volunteer base.

Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2003, 01:38 PM:

I'm not a parent, so take this with a bit of salt.

That said, in response to Melissa Singer, there are arguments both ways on whether to take children to cons--my nephew-by-choice has been enjoying them for years, for example. But somehow it always seems to be the mothers who miss cons, not the fathers (even once the child is weaned).

More to the point, there is no good argument for saying you'll provide childcare and then doing so in as slapdash, unhelpful, or nonexistent a way as some of the cons Kathryn describes.

Cathy ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2003, 04:08 PM:

What a time to have this discussion, right before our 1.5 year old daughter attends her first con!

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2003, 07:19 PM:

Regarding the comment posting problem, as far as I can tell, comments were posting, but the increased # of comments on the main page was not registering because the main page wouldn't rebuild. Annoying server-side problem. (Something MT needed wasn't working.) Anyway, some of these comments did register on my site and were responed to. I will also link to these comments from my page.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2003, 06:39 AM:

My new post, Where Do I Get Those Crazy Ideas?, continues my discussion of conventions and childcare.

Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2003, 02:53 PM:

My dad took me to trade shows when I was a kid. There was the West Coast Computer Faire, where as editor of a magazine he was an exhibitor, there were one or two others where he was there as independent software developer or author.
The way I remember them was that I learned a lot and had a wonderful time, but I might have been kind of a hassle for some people in the sense that they weren't ready to have me around.

Laura J. Mixon ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2003, 04:26 PM:

It's a lot harder with two kids than with one.

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2003, 01:59 AM:

It's also a lot harder when the other parent is as overcommitted as Kathryn's husband tends to be at conventions.

But Kathryn's point is not "It should be easy for me to participate in a convention even though I have two children and an overbooked husband." This is the point that most people seem to be responding to, and it's not what she said.

Her point is, instead, "It should not be borderline impossible for me to participate in a convention in my situation." And I think she's done an excellent job of documenting that it is borderline impossible, and that many of the things which make it so can be remediated.

I think I will go and post this over on her blog as well, since I've been groping towards this thought for several days.

PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2003, 02:59 PM:

I scribbled down a few brief thoughts in my journal, regarding your situation, Kathryn. It's here if you want to read it:


Obviously my brief con experience with a child in tow was that of a fan, not a professional expected to participate in the community, but I do think that many fans would certainly enjoy an opportunity for quality childcare and who might agree to pay for childcare participant tickets. At least with the bigger cons.

(Sadly one of my favourite "conventions" is a professional convention for video game developers and they have a very strict No Babes In Arms and nobody under 18 rule.)

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2003, 01:56 PM:

Just for the record, and no blame to PiscusFiche for not knowing this, but one of the more notable characteristics of the community that puts on science fiction conventions -- at least, the sort that Kathryn and I are concerned with -- is that "fans" aren't the opposite of "professionals," and that fans and pros both "participate in the community." To be specific, the terms "professional" and "program participant" describe overlapping but far from identical sets.

It's because of this that we don't refer to our cons as having "tickets," but rather "memberships." Yes, this is my knee jerking. Yes, it's for good reasons.