This evening I handed off the kids to Stuart and began a task I have been avoiding and dreading all summer: updating my CV (curriculum-vitae, like a résumé in academia).
I just finished reading the book Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte. I've been waiting for the library's copy for months, ever since I heard her interviewed on Fresh Air. The people profiled in Overwhelmed are mostly middle-class parents who work far too many hours, don't have enough time with their families, don't get enough sleep, and hardly have any time for leisure. This is especially difficult for women, duh, since women do the vast majority of child care and household tasks whether they work for wages or not. In fact, the overwhelming workload of holding down a paying job and managing family life is the reason many women drop out of the workforce.
There is a lot packed into that book, like so many statistics it makes your head swim, and not much good to say about the culture of the American workplace, where the "ideal worker," a mythical stereotype perpetuated in this culture, is celebrated for putting in long hours and ignoring his/her own family and personal health purely for the sake of achievement. Having children and wanting to spend time with them stigmatizes workers, men more than women, though men are far are less likely to ask for parental leave or flexible work hours in the first place, which is why women make less money, get promoted less often and are considered less dedicated to their jobs once they have children.
It sucks a whole lot and it's really unfair.
But in some ways, reading this book was reassuring, though in a rather backhanded way. I have always been plagued with self-doubt when it comes to academic/professional success, with constant second-guessing and self-deprecation. That only got worse when I had kids because I had them both in graduate school in the space of less than two years. Anya was born literally hours before I was supposed to turn in my paperwork, and the prospect of looking for a job in a tight market with two kids in diapers? No fucking way. Parenting eventually got a little easier, but the job part certainly didn't, and meantime, I felt more and more sidelined and forgotten. By now I've more or less accepted that most people presume all those years studying music were just killing time until I could make babies and get out of the way. What a nice little hobby I had there.
I have felt like a failure to myself for not pursuing employment right away. Clearly, I must not be driven or ambitious enough. I lack entrepreneurial spirit, a sufficient work ethic, and the willingness to sacrifice even more sleep in order to succeed.
That might be true. It's reinforced for me all. the. time. (All those comments about how great it is that I'm "staying home"? Yup, those really add up.) But I'm starting to realize that it's not completely all my fault. There's really no such thing as maternity leave for graduate students. When I got pregnant with Daniel, I took a semester off and forfeited my assistantship. I had to go back part time and pay for a sitter for every hour I needed to practice. I can't help it that my husband works a job with no options for flex time. And by the time Anya was born I knew there was no way I could pay for daycare for two kids and find a job that would cover the cost. I just didn't have options for a while there. I've only had one year with both of them in public school, and by now I've just been out of the loop for so long I'm not sure how to get back in, though I want to.
Now I know my life looks ideal to a lot of you, enviable even. I have a lovely family and now more often than not I get enough sleep and my husband is a wonderful father and cleans the shower and makes me two double-shots of espresso every morning (that's worth more than the shower-scrubbing, even) and we do fun things every once in a while like take bike rides or go camping. I have time to volunteer at the school and grow tomatoes and cook a good dinner every night.
My life doesn't suck and I can't really say it's unfair, but there is still a big, fat, glaring omission up there.
What's missing for me is fulfilling work in my field, work that I love and am good at and that would affirm all that time I spent in school, and it's frustrating that so few people get that. I didn't "opt out" on purpose. I put things on hold because I couldn't see any other option and just now I spent an hour and a half writing a cover letter for a part-time position that may not even be open and trying to make my CV look like I didn't fall off the face of the earth in 2007.
It's going to be hard, and my self-confidence is probably going to take even more of a beating, but I have got to put myself out there. Our family life won't allow me to look for something full-time, but I want more balance in my life. I want a job that pays more than nothing.