It’s the spring of 2014, and I am returning to work after giving birth to my daughter. I had hoped to stay on maternity leave longer, but I’ve run out of sick days and will already have to teach for free for a week. I trudge into my high school with my laptop case, lunch bag, and a small cooler. Between classes, I pump in the largest stall of the faculty bathroom, fully committed to feeding my daughter breast milk for her first year. I manage the routine for a couple of weeks. My milk runs dry, but my tears stream down. I am juggling full-time work and motherhood and feeling like I’m failing at both.
It’s the fall of 2015, and I have accepted a part-time position teaching English at a school for students who are gifted in the arts. The salary is pitiful. I have no health benefits and no retirement, but I only work every other day. It’s the closest to work-life balance I’ve experienced. When I’m not revising thesis statements and reviewing vocabulary, I’m with my daughter. We go to the park, visit the library, and shop at Claire’s. For a few hours each week, she attends a morning preschool program, and I have some time to myself to grade, plan, and write. I make the best use of the time and rush to pick her up when school ends. I feel like I have the best of both worlds right now, and I don’t want these days to end.
It’s September 2019, and we are all in school and work full-time. I lift my groggy daughter’s head out of her cereal bowl, and we head out into another dim morning. It’s almost dark by the time we’re all back home again. The kids do their homework; I grade papers, and my husband makes dinner. The evening is a whirlwind of preparations for the next day: bathing, scheduling, and lunch packing. Soon we are all in bed. The lights are off, but my brain is on and tuned into guilt mode. I feel bad about snapping at them during homework time and hurrying them through the line at Sweet Frog. I barely saw them all day, and I want life to slow down just a little.
It’s March 2020, and life has slowed down. It has come to a halt, in fact. My children and I are at home, instructing and learning virtually. I make sure they stay occupied in the other room while I teach my sophomores. I worry about being observed by my director and him seeing my kids in the background. I wonder why the presence of a mother’s children so often equates to the absence of professionalism. I don’t hide other parts of my identity from the workforce, but I feel the need to hide that I’m a mother in order to be viewed as a productive employee. I’m one of the fortunate ones, though. My worries remain only worries, but many moms are losing their jobs because they don’t have reliable childcare.
It’s March 2021, and we have been at home together for a year. We have managed to work and learn and hug and snuggle some every day. We have made the most of our time, but I’m feeling anxious about our next big change. My school building is opening at the end of the month, so my children will need to return to in-person school. There is an opening in first grade for my daughter, but my son is on a waiting list. I consider quitting my job that I love and homeschooling both of my children. Instead, I decided to look for a sitter who can stay at home with my son. We find someone we are very happy with, and she and her mom come for a visit.
It seems everything is back on track, at least until the next challenge comes along. I wonder if the global crisis will have any positive effects on the American workforce. Will we be allowed to work from home if we have an occasional childcare issue? Will we have better maternity care so that we don’t have to take unpaid leave? Will the world be more understanding of working mothers from now on?
I want to be hopeful.