The Pause: Once in a Lifetime

"The Pause" is a three-part series in which Christina, Jess, and Shannon discuss whether, how, and why they combine work and parenthood.

When I got the call that I had been laid off from my teaching job I was pushing my infant daughter in her stroller along the windy winter shore of Puget Sound. The news took my breath away - an awkward pause easily explained away as bad reception at the beach or the wind causing that gasping sound heard on the other end of the line. Yes, I had officially given up my job in order to take a year's leave to stay home with my baby, but it was with the understanding that I would come back at least part-time the following fall. All of my books and teaching materials, boxes and boxes and boxes of them, were in the attic of the school waiting for my return. And when I visited the school to show off my sweet baby and keep in touch with colleagues, I was pulled into meetings to discuss former (and presumed future) students to discuss their progress. So, although the technically-not-a-lay-off was legal and not personal (a handful of other teachers were let go, too), it was still a painful shock that haunts me.

I lost my job 6 years ago, and I still have nightmares about it.

I loved my job. I love being a teacher. I loved the school where I taught, and I loved - still love - my students. Being a stay at home mother was supposed to be a one-year-only gig, a sacrificial bone I was throwing to motherhood and my infant daughter, an experiment in Extreme Parenting. I was made for working, and I had put so much time and effort into preparing to be an excellent educator. My teaching practice was just hitting a great stride, one that would not be too broken by a year's worth of full-time parenting, and I looked forward to the balancing act ahead. Staying at home was never part of a long-term plan. And that might explain why this song runs through my head most days as I've gone about the past 6 years of housewifery.

"Well... How did I get here?... My God! What have I done?!"

And you may ask yourself, "So, why not just dive in and get a job?" (Or me. You're probably asking me.) And the answer is a little whiny, a lot privileged, and very ambivalent. The short answer is that I'm scared, and I don't know how to do it.

My Smartner works insane hours and already isn't home for much more than breakfast and the kids' bedtime as it is. And, while his work, like himself, is handsomely remunerative, it does mean that if I went back to work it would be, practically, as a well-funded single working mother. And that sounds fucking sucky. I grew up with a wildly unfunded single working mother, and I know what that struggle looks like. Yes, it would be easier for me because I could afford things like childcare, prepared meals, and housekeepers. I know that I am lucky to have this choice. And, also yes, the panic I feel at knowing that I'd be responsible for so much - the well-being of both my young kids AND my students, to say nothing of attempting to engage in self-care, writing, and running this household - largely by myself is real. I'm not afraid of hard work, but I am afraid of THAT hard work. Instead of looking for a teaching job, I tell myself that it's not time yet, and that I'll go back to teaching part-time when the Smartlings are both in school.

But it's cold, cold comfort because, as much as I love teaching, I feel the obligation to stay home and make this life work only maybe one percentage point more. The best I can muster for housewifing is ambivalence hidden behind a closed-lip smile and some abstract belief that one day I'll be grateful that I did this. In the choice between throwing myself back into the classroom and staying home, staying home wins - but just barely. I am vibrating with excitement at the nearing prospect of both girls being in school full time so that I can look for a part-time teaching gig. There is distant light at the end of the tunnel. Until I exit this life and begin a more complicated, more satisfying one as a working mother, I jealously read Jess Burnquist's writing on teaching and gobble up education books and teaching memoirs like so much apple-flavored candy. It's the best compromise I'm willing to make at this one, ultimately small, point in a lifetime.

For now I've hit "pause" on my career. And, in a short year and a half, I look forward to pushing play again. Back to the classroom. Back to the hustle. Same as it ever was.