First, it goes without saying that I'm hardly in the category of "alpha leaders." High school English teachers don't exactly run the world, important as our jobs may be. And I don't want to run the world. I want to garden, do yoga, and watch my boys grow up. I've made compromises already, scaled back my ambitions for the next ten or more years, as Dana Shell Smith asserts one must do even in an "insanely demanding job." Teaching is an insanely demanding job, even without the ambitions I have put on hold. Being a parent who is present as much at home as at work requires somehow fitting that insanely demanding job into very little time. But would it have made such an impression if, as a friend said to me, an English teacher had written 13,000 words about how hard it is to balance work, life, and ambition? Another friend pointed out that it's not just women with children who find balancing work and life difficult. She's right: some of the most over-worked people I know are childless men. Clearly, the system we live with isn't fair or pleasant for many (most?) of us. Indeed, people without kids often feel (whether correctly or not) that they're unduly burdened with expectations that do not fall on the shoulders of those with young children. I know I felt that way in the past.
And Slaughter herself admits that she's hardly the spokesperson for all women or all people—she has incredible privilege; after all, she left DC to go back to work as a tenured professor at Princeton. But her privilege does give her the opportunity to be heard. The part of her point that I felt most resonance with is that for many women the definitions of happiness and balance change when kids come along, and we're left with trying to choose among the things we love; the idea that this is in any way a choice for women is a fallacy, according to Slaughter. Slaughter quotes Senator Jeanne Shaheen:
“There’s really no choice.” She wasn’t referring to social expectations, but to a maternal imperative felt so deeply that the “choice” is reflexive.Children trump all—whether that means putting career plans on hold or working extra jobs to provide for their needs. Given my recent experience with just trying to tread water in my own career and life, never mind feeling fulfilled on all fronts, I'd have to agree with her.
After an adult life spent defining myself by all the things that I do, the shift to the so-called mommy track is hard. I love the interactions with my students, the stimulation of the reading and thinking and talking that goes on in the classroom. I love the energy of adolescence, the perspective I'm gaining on learning as I watch my children grow. And I miss being the go-to gal for a presentation on integrating digital tools into the classroom. I miss feeling satisfied with hours spent in the garden. I miss calling my mom just to chat in the middle of the afternoon. I miss having friends at work chat with me about movies or books or TV; during the school year, I miss having friends.
But I'm home with the boys for the summer, and I'm quite relieved not to switch roles twice a day. I can just be a mom. It's so much more work than being at work. I'm not doing as much prepping for the school year as I should be doing. But I'm taking Sunday mornings off to go to yoga. I'm swimming once a week. I'm taking a dance class. I'm watching TV with my husband after the kids go to bed. No, I'm not gardening, but it's only a matter of time. I'm cooking a little, here and there. I'm making friends who are moms and meeting up with friends who aren't moms, too. For these eight weeks, I have just about enough.