When I hang out with academic-offspring-of-academics like Alice or Caryn, I am struck by how much cultural capital gets passed from parents to children. I am the first person in my family to pursue a PhD, and every new benchmark in my academic career has slammed into me like a freight train of surprises: what is this "tenure" thing, and -- wait, tenure is a big deal? What do you mean, I have to write in order to "do research"? And what's this about "grants?" What are those, and why would you "write" them? Don't universities just pay your salary?
I am a little jealous of my friends and colleagues who implicitly absorbed so many of these things from parents (and particularly mothers) who were and are academics. I often struggle to explain my work and my confusion to my family of middle-class, (mostly) fluent-English-speaking (mostly) college-educated professionals -- I can't even imagine what first-generation college students working outside their native language have to go through.
Perhaps my obliviousness is exaggerated by my deafness, since I don't overhear (or join in on) those side conversations about academic culture that so many of my classmates seem to know. And maybe this frequent experience of getting hit by cultural freight trains is why I strain so hard to make my work accessible to others. I don't want to be another contributor within the walled garden of the elite, because I know what it's like to be locked out of that garden, blindly struggling to climb a fence into a world I want to join, even if I don't really know what it looks like. (Yes, I still feel that way every day. I'll probably still feel that way when I get tenure. Helen Keller got it right when she said being deaf cuts you off from people -- it's a statement that holds true even when those people are the family, friends, and colleagues you're closest to.)
I also realize that, for what it's worth, my kids will have a mother who is an academic writer/teacher and a hacker/engineer, and my meditations on that have grown to the point that they should be another blog post...