When we decided to have a child, I very carefully timed pregnancy. I wanted to conceive in August so birth would come in May--right as the semester ended at my university. That way I could have four months at home with the baby before returning to the classroom in the fall. If pregnancy didn't happen that month the first year, we'd try in August of the next year.
As luck would have it, I did get pregnant that first month, thanks in part to the infinite wisdom of a totally life-altering book (explanation another time). I finished grading exams little more than 24 hours before my son was born.
We settled into a summer rhythm of nursing, napping, reading aloud (historical monographs in a sing-song lilt), and more nursing. Sometimes David would walk in at the end of the day and ask what I did with the day. "Change sides" was all I could think of.
It stunned me that at the end of the summer, I could not imagine going back to my teaching job. I took off a year, then finally quit entirely. I finished my dissertation, turned it into a book--then started another one with a friend and have finished it down to the copy editing.
I am a historian.
No, I am not.
Mine is a job that has to survive on two hours a day most days--fewer when I need the emotional recovery of knitting during part of my son's reading-or-napping time each afternoon, more on weekends or when pushing deadlines. By evening, my brain refuses to participate. And now the second book is basically finished, anyway.
Am I a professor? No.
Do I make any money? Only enough to buy a spinning wheel with my royalties. Not enough to live without my partner's salary should that ever become necessary or desirable.
Could I get an academic job at this point? No. If you come out with a new PhD and get one job anywhere in the world, you have to consider yourself lucky. If you haven't taught in almost eight years, you are not going to be one of those lucky ones.
Have I thrown everything away?
And I don't believe I could find a job that would fulfill me or challenge me as much as time in my own warped brain does or give me what time with my amazingly cool child does.
I feel trapped, unsure of where I am, what I want with my life, unable to make other decisions even if I did know what they should be.
Am I a SAHM? I am the parent at home, certainly. And that used to be an incredibly important job. Back when our son was tiny, he needed constant care and attention. He was nourished by my presence, both figuratively and quite literally.
My son and I have a lovely time together still--and he certainly is not ready to be alone. But this job is a lot less essential than it used to be. It may be just as fulfilling for me, but it no longer feels like what I am giving is all that necessary for my son. I mean, most folks, even SAHMs, send their kids to school by this point.
But wait--I'm homeschooling parent! That is the job, isn't it? Yes. No. I take notes on what my son does, and I go to the required county portfolio review. But he is his own teacher, his own guide. That is how he's chosen to homeschool. Seeing him find his own path gives me great joy, even as it points out how extraneous I am to the whole endeavor.
Am I a housewife? I suppose I am.
It is not the job I wanted, not a job I acknowledge is mine. If you look at the piles of dirty laundry, the dishes, the grimy bathtub, the floors that have not been vacuumed in ages, you'll know that no one in this house identifies with the job of housewife.
These are tasks that I believe should remain completely unshackled to gender.
But then one person--in this story the one who can breastfeed--quits her job to to be home with a child. It is so wonderful, so beautiful, so much better than all the stupid stuff that has to get done at the office, so much more challenging and rewarding than the office, so much harder and exhausting than the office.... Then that parenting at home job starts being less time-consuming, even though it is ever-more mind consuming.
Our plans for completely egalitarian parenting were swept aside. We kept up the good fight within the confines of a more and more traditional life.
Now that I have fewer parental duties, should our commitments to egalitarian housekeeping be dumped too, in favor of the traditional wifely responsibilities?
It is starting to seem like the answer is yes.
It this where all the touted "women's choices" lead? Do we choose one thing--the experience of staying home with our children--and then by habit start falling into a life we had rejected? What kind of trick is this?
Is THIS really the lesson I am passing on to my child? That this is what women are supposed to do, want to do?
Trapped, mostly by things I loved, and still love. I love being home with my son. He and I both love the magic of homeschooling. If I were to work outside the home right now, those things would be lost. I can't imagine that life would be improved in any way.
I don't even think we could step back to the almost genderless kind of identities we used to have before our child was born, back when my partner's better-paying job was matched by the depth of my passion for my career.
I don't have that passion for a university job anymore.
Who am I?
Can I just tell myself I am a knitter and let the whole identity crisis be swept under a rug?
It wouldn't be found there around this house....