I've considered myself a "full-time mom" ever since Maia was born. Even as a full-time doctoral student taking three classes and working for a professor or teaching a class, I was with my daughter a lot. Jeff even sat outside my classes so I could breastfeed during breaks. It wasn't easy, and sometimes when I look back, I think I was just crazy. What were we thinking, having a child when we were both students? (No, Maia was no accident; we knew what we were doing.)
But while I've always been a full-time mom, Jeff has always been a full-time dad, and I've never really been a "stay-at-home mom." Maia often accompanied me to school in the first year of doctoral classes, and in the second year, my teaching and taking classes assured me trips out of the house on a regular basis. I remained connected to the academic world, and, sleep-deprivation and constant stress notwithstanding, I always appreciated that I wasn't "just" a stay at home mom.
Even last semester, with Jeff teaching a 4-4 load, I sat in on a class and had regular work times at the library. This semster, however, Jeff's teaching schedule requires him to be gone from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays. This means that I'm basically with the girls for ten hours a day. (I say "basically" because on Wednesdays we have the child-care co-op in the morning from 9:30 until 12:00, so on three out of four Wednesday mornings I only have Eva with me.) Mondays and Wednesdays are LONG days. I try to capitalize on Maia's 1.5 hour naptime, and, usually - so far - Eva's snoozing overlaps. But 1.5 hours just isn't all that much worktime for someone who is technically still a full-time doctoral student. And, (surprise, surprise!) when the evening rolls around, I'm usually pretty tired and not too motivated to work on my dissertation proposal or qualifying exam questions. Not to mention Jeff is always trying to rope me in to doing something else - like editing his latest journal article submission, or looking over a conference presentation proposal. Alas!
In theory I have work time set aside on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays (Eva always goes with me). But this past Friday, Jeff had a schoolwide faculty meeting. So there I was, with another marathon day ahead of me. A friend of mine who was on maternity leave once asked me what I do all day. Mind you, she was on maternity leave with her newborn while her toddler was in daycare.
Hmmm? What DO I do all day? I'll admit, I was slightly insulted when she asked. I answered by telling her what I had done on that particular day: went to 7:00 a.m. Mass, ran to the park with Maia, watched her all morning, ran home, showered, had lunch with Jeff at home, went to spiritual direction, met with the prof for whom I was working, and then spent a few hours in the library reading before rushing home to make dinner. But you'll notice that I seemed to throw the emphasis on my time away from Maia and away from home. Because that's what matters, right? That's what provides me with a sense of self-worth and accomplishment, right? It's what puts me on equal terms with my friend who works all day, right?
Yes, I am one of those people who thinks that taking care of one's kids is perhaps the most meaningful thing a person can do. But for some reason, it just doesn't always feel that way. Friday was one of those days that it didn't feel particularly meaningful. We were in the basement. I was doing loads of laundry (Eva in the sling) inbetween watching Maia jump on her trampoline and dancing to Philadelpia Chickens. In my spare time, I was petitioning St. Anthony about finding that file of mine filled with book summaries for a class I took. (From Visual and Material Culture, Tony, if you're reading this...)
Then I thought to myself: What am I doing with my life? Why am I sequestered in a basement singing aloud about remarkable cows and a dino with a low, low voice? How many more times will I play hide and seek today with Maia hiding in the exact same closet? How many more poopy diapers will I change? How many more times will I have to interrupt nursing Eva to empty Maia's potty? Will I ever take my qualifying exam? And what was I thinking when I said as a youth that I should like to be a stay-at-home-mom just like my mom was for many years?
I comforted myself with the thought that I could offer up my not doing any "work" as a penance, since it was Friday, and not doing "work" was definitely feeling like a HUGE sacrifice.
And then I remembered the pie chart in my pregnancy, childbirth, and the newborn book. The graph represents an average person's life, emphasizing that a person is only an infant for one year. Eva will only be an infant for this one year of her life. Maia will only be a two-year old for this one year of her life. I don't want to miss this, and not missing this is not a penance but a gift.
One conclusion I came to is that life is hard without the park. When I spend my morning at a park, surrounded by other parents taking care of their kids, I feel affirmed in my attempt to be a full-time mom. And I think Maia feels affirmed in her attempt to be a kid. But nine hours as a stay-at-home mom and a stay-at-home kid is enough for us both to lose it. So in the afternoon on Friday, we went swimming. That is, Eva stayed in her carseat-stroller until she woke up, and then I attempted to watch both girls (one in, one out of the water). In the end, I'm not sure it was really worth all the work (but at least I got to do my laps afterward, since I had Jeff pick up the girls from the pool).
Monday of the same week I began my marathon day with a trip to the mall. That's right, the mall. Since the town I was raised in was a good hour from the nearest mall, I never had much opportunity to hang out at the mall. And I'd say it's a close race for which is worse for the full-time mom self-esteem: a morning at the mall play area or a morning in the basement. Now, I was at the mall because two friends of mine were also bringing their kids to the play area. So at least I had companionship that prevented me from dwelling on questions like, "Why the heck am I at a mall on a Monday morning?" But, after an hour of watching kids jump over what is simply an elaborate advertisement for the Dayton Daily News, followed by the obligatory walk down to the pet store, the purchase of a conditional Icee ("since you were good..."), and retrieving Maia from a random shoe store she'd run into, I admit I was relieved to walk out of there and drive 25 mintues home.
So this is the constant tension in my life: theologian or mom? Is it even possible?
And, of course, the answer (for now) is: theologian and mom. It just doesn't always feel like it. But I guess I'm not ready to give up on the former, even if right now the emphasis is on the latter more than ever.