Friday, June 22, 2012

1:11 They Found Me Out!

Mark it: the day Anne-Marie Slaughter went viral about "Why Women Still Can't Have It All." It's a worthy read. I shared on social media today, but it no place for a fuller response

I feel obligated to opine further because:
  1.  This blog is about mothering. As a priest's wife, I signed on to be a mother who works. Some clergy may make $40-50 thou a year, but not young priests in OCA parishes. Married priests usually have wives who bring home the bacon, try to create a safe castle for kids and husby, and be a little mother in the parish too.
  2. This article made me nod "Yup" on every page. I confess this: on the eve of our move from seminary to parish, while trying to prompt obstinate children to pack up their rooms as I worked from my home office, I yelled some incoherent and spiritually damaging words: "I never wanted to be a middle school or high school teacher. I work a job I never intended to work so I can be a better mom for you." For the record, I was wrong about that. I am at peace with teaching. I think I'll do it the rest of my life. It took ten years for that peace to be realized. I had to sign up for what Slaughter calls, "A Reinvestment Interval." What she doesn't talk about, and I hope to articulate, is that the "Reinvestment Interval" has a spiritual, not just familial or gendered dimension.
  3. This author found out that I too just push 111 on the microwave because it's faster than finding other numbers. It is so great to find out other women do this too.
There are two points that Slaughter makes I'd like to expand upon. One is the aforementioned spiritual benefit to the intervals we women (and men) take when delaying promotions or securing 'tenure' on a longer timetable. It is what I've learned along the way, while delaying my personal gratification for my kids, that has made me better equipped to be their momma or anyone's little momma.

When I went back to school after five years of marriage, my husband and I agreed, I would earn a BA in English and go to grad school, so I could teach college or work in publishing. When I was ensconced in a fabulous career, he could finish school or go full-time with his music career. Trade off.

I was vetting programs when birth control failed or God succeeded. Take it how you like it. I think it was both. I announced to my closest gals that I was preggers with my second baby, and those Christian ladies responded right in my emotional scale.

"Are you okay?" They knew I would be fine at some point, but how soon? This was going to change all "our" plans. I took summer courses, not covered by my Dean's High Honors Scholarship, adding a cool $5000 to my school bill. My son's birth derailed my last mid-term, fall semester, senior year. I had him in a sling, nursing while I blue-booked my Medieval Lit exam two weeks later. I still had sixteen stitches desolving around my birth canal. It was hard to think and write. Instead of staring at the nine-month belly swell sliding down a block wall to wait for class, twenty-year classmates watched me with a sling and baby, later a cow pump for breast milk. No grad school for now. We couldn't move until debts were paid off again. Enter teacher licensure program and first position at a private Christian school. $19,000 a year starting salary minus $13,000 for licensure courses add cost of commuting and subtract tuition for daughter's private school. Total positive earnings first year of teaching. $0. Commuting with my daughter, keeping her in a good school near me, coordinated parent-child schedule? Priceless.

When I had to make more money, I dropped the commute and got a job at a local high school. Pay bump of ten grand, less private school tuition for daughter again. Total time working? Twelve hours a day. That's where my hubby did the "interval." I became career-mom, super-teacher. He cooked, cleaned, took kids to extra-activities, planned sexy retreats for our marriage, took over the checkbook. He worked full-time, played music part-time and came home to another full-time home-maker's job.

Then seminary. Earnings from hubby for four years? $0. Donations. Thank GOD and many of His faithful servants. 

That's the thing about having it all, and my second point to this post. (Almost inseparable from the point I plan to make fully.) Anyone who has kids can't have it all. Anyone who loves family can't have it all. Stephanie Koontz wrote a great book The Way We Never Were, and I learned from it how damaging the myth of the nuclear family is. When Slaughter discusses the culture that cultivates men who have the excuse to work long hours, for greater good or not, and ignore their kids and partners, I find myself wondering. Just how long has that culture been around? How long could we have sustained it? In times not so far back, whole families made their ways together, living close to the land and each other. The urban dwellers often worked one generation or two out of the industrial slave trades of coal mining, steel-working, meat-packing, etc. If they couldn't escape one way, they unionized.

Wendell Berry's novels, Hannah Coulter and Jayber Crow, have reinforced that the idea of having it all is always at the cost of something or someone. His Hannah Coulter urged her kids off the land to the great careers, and they disappeared from her life. Grandkids came back disenfranchised and bruised with ennui. It's not a life I want for myself.  So far, I think we can avoid it. We've adopted another kind of tradeoff. It's been a dance against and for the forces of traditional gender 'jobs' in the home, but always always for the preservation of our marriage and spiritual health of our kids. It is not perfect. Sometimes it is myopic and blind decision making, and living with the consequences many times. It requires confession and repentence and change when the choices are poor.

Consider seminary. I kept trying to advance my job security and my professional reputation while my husband was doing an intensive program. Teaching and ministry are human-services and ministerial positions. They are both 'callings' -- but any job is a calling! They require internalizing and burying other people's dramas and traumas, and finding the peace to guide and pray through. They are like parenting. They are rewarding, demanding, exhausting. We made choices in seminary that belittled what we gave to our kids. I was working from home for a cyber charter school. My daughter was enrolled and learning from home. We homeschooled my son one year, and privately schooled him others. I brought my computer to the table, and my husband brought seminary stress. Our kids got lots of us, the bad side of us. It is as poor a parenting-choice as getting little but calling it quality.  Sorry, folks, there is such a thing as that kind of poor parenting.

At that time, all the lessons I learned from teaching, I stopped applying. I was parenting and working from the hip, surviving. Hoping to have it all. We were that low-income couple that shuffles bills, over-uses credit cards, never takes dates, sets aside all the markers of a restful, connected family.

I had learned many excellent parenting skills from my teacher mentors and reflections. Give kids three choices, not two. Walk away in angery situations. Use proximity, not loud words to lend authority to the expectations. Be consistent and clear about the difference between rules and procedures. Be consistent about rules and consequences. Above all, be patient. Don't think or speak hurtful things about your students or children, even when you think no one can hear. It's what Elder Porphyrios calls spiritual violence. 

All these had spiritual value. My work was making me a better parent, even when I thought a thousand times in April and May I never wanted to teach kids. I wanted to climb the ladder in a college or writing career. This investment interval I made, along with having kids made me a better person. I commend Slaughter for noting that the alternative is likely the lonely authoritarian woman berating employees for not having a work ethic because they don't commit to 12-hour days. There are still women who suggest that pregnant women are hurting their careers. I have enough strong will to know, if I didn't have kids to interval me, I would be bitter and judgmental. Or, I should be honest, more judgmental. I have my times.

Here's to dittos I can give Slaughter- we need to change the culture to be more 'care-giver' friendly, regardless of gender. We need to embrace the personhood that we gain in being care-givers.

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