October 17, 2005
This morning I ran into my favorite professor from graduate school. He noticed my condition and at one point said, "I guess your job is one you could return to."
I found myself stammering, "Well, um, I'm going to take at least a year off. Stay home for a little bit." It wasn't a lie. It just wasn't the whole truth. I just couldn't bring myself to admit that I'm planning to stay home the year after that and the year after that, as long as I'm having babies.
This isn't the first time I've been unable to fully disclose my stay-at-home-mom plans.
To Work (outside of the home) or Not to Work (outside of the home)
I've always wanted to be a stay-at-home-mom. When I was trying to decide whether or not to pursue a doctorate, what stopped me was knowing that by time I finished-- and frantically sought a teaching post at any university I could-- I'd be ready for kids. And not wanting to work full-time. And in a field too competitive for me to be calling the shots on my hours.
Without so much as a boyfriend in the picture, I remember sitting in another professor's office explaining that my desire to be a full-time mom outweighed my desire for Ph.D. It was difficult listening to his talk of wasted gifts when I didn't even know for sure whether I'd ever be blessed with kids.
My professor was right about one thing: having a career and being a mother are not mutually exclusive. Will I be wasting opportunities?
Yesterday's Stay-at-Home Mom
On one hand, I know that until the twentieth century, the life of a stay-at-home mom looked quite different than it does today. Older siblings and even grandmothers kept the tiny tots from gettting too close to the fire, while Mom was busy churning butter and washing clothes in the creekbank. So much for Kindermusik and playdates!
If you were wealthy, a wet nurse took care of your infant, and housemaids kept older children out of your hair.
Either way, mom's life didn't revolve around teaching baby sign language, ensuring that her child had multi-sensory stimulation through well-chosen activities, or baking cupcakes for Sally's homeroom (more likely, picking up cupcakes from Publix). Babies were just there. You fed them, and you loved them, and maybe you even wore them-- depending on the part of the world-- but they didn't dictate the day's schedule.
What About Now?
So now that we have all these modern, time-saving conveniences --washing machines, running water, specialized industry so that we can pick up milk in the grocery store instead of milking Bess each morning-- what business do I have staying at home? Doesn't it make sense that with all the extra time afforded by technology, mothers help with the distribution of labor outside of the home? After all, who am I helping by spending mornings at the zoo?
Well, here's the thing: while wearing a baby on your back to work is acceptable in many places, in most parts of the developed world it is not. So, someone's got to take care of my babies. Childcare is a valid profession, and it's going to be mine. That, and dairy production.
My biggest fear is of turning my child into a god. It wasn't so much of a danger when mothers were busy grinding their own flour, but now... I'm quite capable of centering my life on fun at the park, elaborate birthday parties, and teaching my child playground etiquette. It could be easy to use my child as a shield from the rest of the world, with the claim I am too busy to learn about or act upon the ills, injustices, and catastrophes that happen outside of my home.
It's this fear of my own weakness that leads to those half-truth answers. "Umm, yeah, I'll be staying home for the first year." Sigh.