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Inward Summer Days 6

It’s afternoon and the sky has turned gray. Gusty winds bend the redwood trees and whistle through the window cracks of this old house. Since we got back two weeks ago, it’s been gray almost every day and I’m struggling to see beyond the clouds and the moodiness they bring. Daily writing is a collage of fog and doubts about what to do next. Today I look out the window and imagine the fog bank rolling inland all night long, unspooling like an endless misty ribbon. I imagine the edges, how the cold, damp gray hits the heat of the dry golden hills inland and finally evaporates into the wide open sky when the sun comes up. The radio announcer tells us to expect little change in the weather this week, “low clouds and fog, temperatures from the mid-sixties near the coast to the mid-nineties inland”. It feels endlessly cold and gray, like winter in New England. And like long, snowy winters in other places, the summer here turns me inward toward questions about who I am and where my life is going.

This summer, having finally finished my degree in May, I’m thinking about what to do next. Like most women with young children, I want interesting, stimulating work that’s flexible while my children are young. I stepped off the path of tenure-track jobs two years ago, feeling, as many women do, that its demands were incompatible with family life. Now I have these Ph.D. skills that could take me in a lot of different directions, from research consultant or policy advocate, to adjunct teacher or writer, to something yet to be discovered. I’m excited to have options. And I’m excited to inject more creativity into whatever work I do, to shape my own career path. But I also feel like I’m going into an unknown world; I’ve never in my life not had a job or school directing my time, and most often through the years I have had some combination of the two.

A crucial turning point for many women’s careers is this period when children are young. Caring for babies and toddlers is a full-time job, and as one of the women in The Mommy Wars says, ‘we can either do that work ourselves or we can outsource it’. Thus, for many us, whether and how much to work becomes a choice we make in the years when we’ve first become mothers. As I talk with people, it seems like everyone has a story about a woman they know who did the math and found they earned just enough to pay for childcare, and so they decided to stop working while their children were young. Family finances are of course the most important factor in choosing whether and how much to work. But if the finances allow one parent not to work, then a host of other issues factor into the decision, including what our children need, childcare options, our qualifications, the jobs available, and our passions and ambitions.

In my family, we can live on one salary, at least for now. But I cannot imagine not working. And I want to be the main person caring for my children while they’re young. So on the foggy, introverted afternoons of this post-dissertation summer, I’m trying to craft a meaningful career direction I can work on part-time for the next few years, and full-time once my kids are in school. No pressure, right?

6 comments

  1. Megsie

    08/01/2013 at 3:12 pm

    Oh, this one is a life question. It can only be answered correctly by YOU. When MY first child was born, I was teaching 1st grade. I took a leave for one year (which is what was allowed). I had to let the school district know by March of the year I was on leave if I was going to go back to teach the next year. By this time I had had a miscarriage, and was still in the state of grieving. But I knew I wanted to have another child–soonish. Since I was not pregnant, I decided (after a long time of considering) to resign. Had I known that I was really already pregnant with twins I wouldn’t have. That was the beginning of 10 years home with my kids. I know it was the right thing to do for THEM. I am not sure if it was right for me or not. I don’t think enough time has lapsed to really make that determination. So. I hope that helps in your collection of first hand accounts. I always like to know everyone else’s experiences so I can make an informed decision myself. I hope you don’t consider it over-sharing. Good luck with this time to ponder! xo

     
    • Willow

      08/02/2013 at 9:38 am

      You’re so right Meg…we all have to find our own answers to this question. I completely believe that. Thank you for sharing your experience! You left me wondering: why would you have done things differently if you’d known you were pregnant with twins?

       
      • Megsie

        08/02/2013 at 3:55 pm

        I know for sure I would have taken another leave instead of resigning. Our contract stated that you get a one year leave per child, so that would have given me another two years at home and a guaranteed job after those two years. I have no idea what my decision would have been at that time, go back to work or stay at home? At that point it might have looked VERY attractive to go back to work, because being home is HARD. The 24/7-ness of being a stay-at-home-mom is tough, and not having any money was hard too. So, who knows? I might have made a different decision if given the chance. I might have decided to stay home anyway, but I will never know. And, things worked out this way! I love my job, and I love that I had the opportunity to stay home with my kids until they were all in school full time. Win/win.

         
        • Willow

          08/05/2013 at 11:27 am

          Thanks, Meg, it’s so helpful to hear others’ stories as I try and figure this out for myself.

           
  2. Christina Rosalie

    08/02/2013 at 7:23 am

    Can’t wait to talk to you about this…. and NO PRESSURE, really! Truly.

     
    • Willow

      08/02/2013 at 9:36 am

      Thanks, and can’t wait to talk too!

       

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