The Pause: It's Working

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

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As Christina Miller Larsen begins to see the light of the working world enter her realm of possibility, I am deep within its glare. I’m squinting. Sometimes, I’m basking. Mostly, I’m just trying to keep my eyes open.

I began working when I was 16. I’m a failed gift wrapper. A fairly decent grocery bagger. I rocked at hanging clothes at Target. Once I sold roses to pervy drivers on River Road in Tucson. I have worked in two different Jewish Community Centers and one fast food restaurant. Immediately after college, I quit a job selling appropriated South American and Mexican Art at a store on 4th Avenue in Tucson to accept another job working with troubled teens. This led to a job in Phoenix, after getting married, at a different shelter working with abused children. That work, rich with stories I still don’t feel qualified to articulate they were so horrifically tragic, led to a sort of emotional breakdown and a 2 month hiatus while I tried to figure out next-steps.

I reentered the working world out of necessity, but I was also able to work in a gentler environment--teaching preschool. I worked with two-year-olds. I wasn’t a parent yet, but spending my days with a room full of toddlers triggered a sense of desire relating to my own potential motherhood and also motivated me to find a more engaging position. Montessori training and instruction filled the next three years. The first of which was busy preparing for the birth of my son--the last preparing for the birth of my daughter.

No matter how much I may want to stay home to raise my children and manage my household, financially it is an impossibility. We are part of the thinning middle class. We are digging out from the damage of the recession and we weren’t living dangerously when it hit. The advantages my parents worked so hard my whole childhood to provide to my brother and me often feel like mere wishes for our own children in spite of how hard we hustle. We are the living examples of political rhetoric on this topic. We deserve better.

That said, I can’t imagine not working.

Well, actually I can. After my daughter was born, I took a year off. My year lasted nine months. Those nine months are a blur. We had a pretty clean house. There were playdates for my son during the day. My daughter grew from a colicky disaster into a delightful and thoughtful baby. I gardened. I painted and decorated. We went to the library. We went on walks. We went on drives.

I went insane.

I need structure and tasks beyond the scope of my home in order to feel like myself. I don’t think I am any better or worse than women or men who don’t require such activity--though society would like us to take a side. I just don’t feel like myself when I don’t have a lot of irons in the fire.

On a pregnant whim I applied to grad school. ASU was ranked 8th in the country for Creative Writing. I didn't think I had a chance in hell of being accepted. I got in. While I pursued my Master’s degree in creative writing, I also began teaching high school English. My daughter was four months old. My son was two and a half. But it worked better for me than staying home.

There are days when I do fantasize that my husband lands the next big gig and my salary becomes superfluous. I dream of earning a book deal that would make a long term sabbatical possible. But deep down I know. I know that teaching and writing are integral to my sense of accomplishment and they help settle my burning desire to leave some proof of my existence on this earth besides my two incredible children.

I’ve worked hard to be able to work hard.

All I can add to this dialogue with Christina and Shannon is that when I was in the final year of my MFA program, I had a conversation with a colleague who is now a famous poet that initially infuriated me. She was on a meteoric rise as a writer and when I bemoaned not having the time required for the same arc of success, she replied that she was certain it would happen for me after my children were grown. She said, “Oh, when you’re 50, things will rock and roll for you.”

I’m going to be 45 next month and things on that front are on fire. Sometimes my progress flashes at lightspeed. Looking back, things were always moving.

Success conjugates, dearests. Our time is now. It has come and it will come.

We are working for it. All of us.

About Jess

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