Last week I got an email from the head of the English department asking if I wanted to teach College Writing next semester. Or to be more specific: College Writing II, which is just a less threatening title for the class students like to call That Crazy Research Paper Writing Class that is Taking Up My Life. Professionally, teaching that class would be a step up for me. More opportunities in the English department, more room to show-off my specialty (although truthfully, my real specialty is complaining about pregnancy and eating ice cream directly from the carton).
So when the email came, I was a bit surprised at myself that I quickly and without regret wrote back the department chair and politely declined the offer. Thanks but no thanks. I'd rather teach speech.
I wrote that. I'd rather teach speech.
And I wondered briefly: who is that person that would rather teach speech over teaching writing? Over teaching research paper writing? Ah, yes, that would be me.
In my short commute from school to home I reflected on my decision. Was I giving it up because the writing class would pay less? Was I afraid of failing at teaching a subject I love? Was I lazy in not wanting to commit to a class with a heavier work load? Or was it because the idea of taking on a new class in January--a mere couple weeks after having a baby--doesn't sound the least bit enjoyable to me? I searched for some part of me that was disappointed about giving up this new opportunity and didn't find it.
I wasn't disappointed. I had simply come to terms with what I want right now in life. Not a career. Not a full-time teaching job. Not a PhD. Not more afternoons talking to college students. A year ago my dream job was becoming a full-time professor. But somehow, unexpectedly, I have become the mom who just wants to be a mom. I just want to stay home and color and play with dolls and keep up with the laundry. When Sydney and I have lunch together and she says, "Mommy, do this!" and claps her hands, I get a big kick out of clapping my hands with her. "Mommy, do this!" and I'm tapping my nose, then making screechy bird noises, then knocking my head against the back of the chair. Following my daughter's directions is what I live for. I have become that woman--that former high strung career oriented girl--that some other career women wonder about. You have a degree, someone asked me once, so doesn't it drive you crazy to not be doing something with it?
It did. But now it just doesn't seem to. I don't know what changed, except that I know that it did. That smart, academic part of me isn't gone, she just isn't chomping at the bit anymore. She isn't reminding me to keep on top of the communication journals. She isn't pestering me to submit that paper to the Irish literature conference. She's gotten kind of quiet, although she periodically drops names like Bahktin and Althusser and Amis back into my memory. But she's not bossing me around anymore, making me feel guilty for staying home instead of putting my academic skills to use.
Being a mom was never something I wished for. I never wished to hold a little hand in mine and help her plunk out "Twinkle Twinkle" on the piano. I was often perplexed by women who said, "I'm just happy being at home." For once upon a time, the idea of not working sounded rather terrifying and financially poor.
But now I have all that--being a mom, holding the little hand, listening to Sydney make suggestions about the next song to sing. "How 'bout...Old MacDonald?" she asks. "How 'bout...Winkle Winkle?" When did that become the highlight of my life? Not when she was born. Not when she turned one. Not really when she turned two. But gradually over the past few months, something changed. A little seed of contentment was planted, and it somehow survived. Sure, we have the financially poor part too, but it's okay. I'm even happy with that part.
Maybe someday that academic girl will come knocking at my door and say, "Let's try this again." But if she doesn't, I haven't lost anything. No matter what anybody says, me not teaching isn't a waste of ability or degree. It just isn't. Because I know when Sydney does her own version of Simon Says at lunch tomorrow-- "Mommy, do this!"--I'll be doing it.
And I'll be happy.
(Post Edit: I should add that I most certainly do not believe that all moms should make the decision to stay home. I only wanted to capture my own personal change because it is such a dramatic one.)