Thursday, October 7, 2010

NetFlix, TiVo and Intellectual Guilt

I have not yet reached the end of the six weeks that is considered normal for recuperation after birth, but I am already thinking about what it would be like to go back to work.  I don't wanna.  I don't hafta.  I couldn't be happier about those facts.

Here's the problem, though--way back in high school, when I was at my fiery finest, I swore up down left right and backwards that I would never be content staying home.  I remember when I was senior, a girl in my class who was committed to staying home someday asked me why I wouldn't be satisfied staying home and working on my writing as a hobby.  "A hobby?"  I was indignant.  I wanted to make money for myself.  I wanted to share with the world.  Working only as a hobby would never be enough for me.  I am woman, hear me type!

Fast forward 14 years, and here I am staying at home for at least a year with my new son, and writing my blog, which one might consider to be a hobby.  I am being domestic and taking care of the house and errands and other things.  I don't have any particular urge to go back to teaching full time.

Now, part of that has to do with the stresses of teaching.  I LOVED being a teacher.  I loved the students.  I loved planning lessons.  I loved the ability to be creative in getting new concepts to students who couldn't care less about Shakespeare or Mark Twain.  But I hated the circumstances under which I taught.  I had 150 students, give or take, each day.  I taught either five classes and had to travel between two buildings, or six classes with multiple preps and multiple classrooms.  I never dug myself out from under the avalanche of grading.  I always felt guilty about not doing enough for my students--and I never was able to keep a balance between the classroom and home.

I know that there is no way that I could both be a good teacher and a good mother of a little one.  So I'm really thrilled that I don't have to try this year.  But I'm afraid that I will never want to go back to the high school classroom.  I'm enjoying being at home and focusing on my family.  I'm enjoying the break from stress.  I'm enjoying being able to watch Tootsie on Tivo in the middle of the week while I'm breastfeeding my LO.  How could teaching ever compare with that?

It feels like a cop-out that I'm so happy staying with my son.  On the one hand, ever since I started working with children, I have always felt a little strange about the idea of giving my child over to daycare while I go work with other people's children all day.  On the other hand, I'm good with children and I'm a good teacher.  Aren't you supposed to do the work you are most suited for?

I think I would feel less guilty if I were doing more intellectually than just writing this blog.  I have a novel that I put away during the summer of 2009, and I promised myself I would work on it while I was staying home.  But of course I'm having trouble finding the time for it.  It's either work on my blog or work on my fiction, and for right now, the blog wins.  Maybe I'll have a better handle on my time in a few months--although, by then LO will be needing me in a different way than he does now.  Who knows if it will provide me with more or less time for my own intellectual endeavors.  Since I am not writing for a paycheck, carving out the time for it is more difficult than it would be to find the time for paid work.  But I know that writing will not be a priority when/if I go back to work full time.  I wasn't able to write--not even a diary--while I was teaching without a baby at home.  There's no way I could write, be a mother and be a teacher, and I don't want to give up the hope of writing on a daily basis.

I'm also happy indulging my domestic side.  The house is so much neater/cleaner now that it was when I was teaching.  Even though I'm dealing with an infant and sleep deprivation, I'm able to take pride in my home more than I was ever able to do while I was vibrating with the stress of my own high expectations for myself.  I know that there is definitely honor in keeping house.  As I keep reminding myself, it's only been relatively recently in American history that all adults are expected to both work and keep up the home.  Housewifery used to be the expectation for women, and it really is a full time job taking care of home and family.  But anyone could do the work I do in the house (except for breastfeeding), and I have trouble with the idea that I'm not some kind of expert anymore.  I like having the sense of being an intellectual of some sort.  Of course, staying home does not negate that, but it does make it more difficult to establish that feeling when I don't have a career to talk about.

I currently plan to pick up a class or two to teach at the local community college.  The pay's not great, but it will keep some money coming in and will get me out of the house.  It also might be possible to teach in that way without needing day care--if I teach evening or weekend classes.  Right now, I'm not really looking forward to this possibility.  I'm glad to be at home.  I'm glad to not have a pile of grading waiting for me at every turn.  I'm glad to be able to watch old movies.  I'm glad to be able to write four times a week in my blog and play with the words that have always been my friends.  But...I have been having a harder time coming up with things to post about on this blog, which tells me I might get bored soon. And I know I don't bore well.  It can be soul-deadening for me.  Hopefully, by the time I start teaching again, I'll be thrilled to be back in the classroom, even part time.

But, I hope I can find the balance that I'm always searching for in my life.  I want to be able to write.  I want to be able to take care of my family and be LO's primary caregiver.  I want to feel like I'm contributing financially to my family.  And I want to be able to get out of the house and talk about things other than babies.  I just hope all of this is not too much to hope for.  I don't want to set myself up for disappointment.


  1. Hey Snis, when you're ready, you should put feelers out for freelance writing. Pitch a story to a magazine or the newspaper. Send links to this blog to parenting magazines and websites. Be guilty of shameless self promotion. Make your writing be your income stream. You can do it!

  2. It's the shameless self promotion I have trouble with. I've never liked that aspect of writing. I suspect that's why many successful writers can be such assholes--they have to be to be successful. (This is a sweeping generalization, of course, but it's my blog and I'll cry if I want to). I do like the idea of sending links of this blog to parenting magazines. I'll definitely look into that. Thanks for the words of encouragement!

  3. The maternity (and, to a lesser extent, paternity) benefits in this country are criminal. You're very lucky, as you know, that you can take a full year off. I utterly believe that if women received a year's maternity leave, there would be a much higher rate of educated women returning to the work force. Whenever I hear snarky stories of "stoopid women ruining feminism by SAYING they'll return after maternity leave, and then they quit, and THAT is why companies don't hire women of childbearing age!" all I can do is think of a 6 week old and wonder what sort of shitty parent wouldn't try to move heaven and earth not to send a baby that age to daycare. For most working women, it still doesn't matter: said baby requires "food" and "diapers" and "a roof" and "heat" and "water", all of which cost money, which must be acquired at said job. But of course women who have the option Mommy Track themselves.

    And of course that screws over other women. But I am completely unable to blame them, or to demand that they act like martyrs for some greater cause (which gets no general social support anyway).

    I'll put on my tinfoil hat right now and say that the totally shitty family benefits that mothers (and fathers) receive is a conservative Christian social machination to keep women at home and out of the work force. It sucks, but that's the special interest group with the biggest political clout and they're the ones who have a vested interest in keeping women at home and pregnant. It's what they believe is the One Right Way, and that's how they grow their numbers.

  4. Actually, I just recently read about how Phyllis Schlafly successfully fought a push for universal childcare 30 years ago. She's still fighting it as of 3 years ago:

    (To be honest, I didn't read much of the article because it turned me off my pb&j). Can you imagine how beneficial it would be to have universal, free, good quality child-care available? God forbid we do that and allow the poorest members of our society to find a way out of the cycle of poverty, among other benefits.