fall, feminism, teaching

No More Books and Studies

I always looked forward to the start of school with a mixture of apprehension and excitement. There was the joy of new pens and notebooks, the nerves of meeting new people, and the feeling of starting over, like I had a whole 9 months of chances to learn and work hard. The school year always stretched ahead of me with possibility: both as a student and a teacher, I wondered who I’d be by next June, what skills I’d learn, what friends I’d make. It was a defined, certain stretch of time that marked the shift from summer to fall, from freedom to buckling down to work.

This year, September has a different feel to it. I’m starting over in a bigger way, because I’m not going back to school. Instead, three days a week I’ll be home with 1-year-old Blueberry, and two days a week I’ll be writing and tutoring.

I have a lot of conflicting, confusing thoughts tied up with this change. Aside from my first year after college, spent working in NYC, I’ve never not gone back to school (the double-negative feels appropriate, if clumsy, here), so internally I feel untethered, like it’s still summer. The weather’s still warm, and B’s and my schedule is still roughly the same. Though we spend early mornings watching kids walk to our neighborhood middle school, I personally haven’t experienced that first day of school that always delineated the shift in seasons, so in a way it doesn’t really feel like fall yet. Apparently I’ve grown to depend on the academic calendar as a means of internal organization. (I even still use my academic-year day planner because, well, it makes sense that way.)

Aside from that pretty superficial note (the seasons haven’t officially changed! woe!), mainly I’m struggling with various narratives around the idea of being a “stay-at-home mom.” (The quotation marks denote the concept, not a judgment.) When I first decided to resign from teaching, I wondered if I was a bad feminist for quitting my job. Surely, I thought, the ghost of Betty Friedan turns over in her grave every time a gainfully-employed woman abandons her paid work for domestic life in suburbia.

But then I realized I was judging self-identified stay-at-home parents. Seeing them as somehow less than those who are paid for working outside the home. That was my true moment of bad feminism.

Because the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the truly feminist thing was my ability to choose. Unconsciously I’d bought into the narrative that paid work meant equality, when in reality it stemmed from the choice to spend at least the next year according to my own desires. I wanted to stay home with B, and I wanted to write, and we were lucky enough that we could make both of those choices happen. If I wanted to stay home with B and not write, that would have been a feminist choice, as well. Same with wanting to keep teaching full-time.

But this realization doesn’t make it easier for me to identify my new role to others. When we’re in the front yard and strangers pause to chat (our new neighborhood is quite friendly), I hesitate when they ask if I’m a stay-at-home mom. I struggled to tell friends that I’d resigned, instead saying I was “taking time off,” which led to the confusing assumption that I was merely on a leave of absence.

I don’t know why I’m struggling with that. Maybe I’m still dealing with my internalized judgment. Maybe I’m so tied to defining myself based on schools–first as a student, then as a teacher–as I’ve done nearly my entire life, that I’m having trouble divorcing myself from that marker. I have a feeling I’ll be adjusting to this for a while.

And in the meantime, I’ll be adjusting to a different definition of September. I’m still buckling down to work, but this time as a mom of an active toddler and a writer drafting a new project. This coming year is still full of possibility, but this time I wonder what skills B will learn, what adventures we’ll have, and what projects I’ll complete. It’s unknown and frightening and exhilarating.

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2 thoughts on “No More Books and Studies”

  1. Hi Abby, Jessica Grogan from Laurel ’04 here. I loved this post! I took a year off from college when my daughter was born seven years ago, and coming up with something to say about how I was spending my time in the midst of so many people going back to school was a lesson in self-doubt. What was I doing? How permanent was it going to be? Had I stepped off the track for good? I, too, thought of Betty Friedan. I felt like I’d pretty much failed Feminism 101, whatever that is. Anyway, suffice to say, it was heartening to read your post so many years later. My children are seven and three now, I’m a college graduate, and I work from home. I still don’t feel like I’ve been able to “have it all” like I feel like I’m supposed to, but I will say that now that my kids are in school, the collection of snapshots I have in my mind from their early years- particularly age 1-2- are precious. I wish you all the best in your year with Blueberry, and if you haven’t gone yet, the Carousel at a Roger Williams Park was a favorite of that age for my daughter. Cheers to uncharted paths!

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    1. Hi Jessica, thanks so much for your thoughtful comment! It’s helpful to hear that you also struggled with taking time off and what that would mean, and, too, that you have such great memories of those early years with your kids. More and more the saying “you can have it all, just not at the same time” seems more appropriate and realistic than “having it all” full stop. We’ve checked out the park but not the carousel yet, so that will be on our list! Wishing you and your family the best, as well. What kind of work do you do from home, if I can ask?

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