It’s looking like our gamble didn’t pay off, at least not for this year.
I am looking at September, and I am, at this moment, unemployed.
I applied for contract teaching positions at four universities.
I didn’t get any of the positions.
Q. and I had a talk about it, while we were still in Oz, when it was becoming ever more obvious that there are just too many people out there with similar qualifications or with so much seniority that they are entrenched in a course even though they have no real qualifications in the subject (and I do). The irony is that I was a contract lecturer before I started the PhD, and if I had kept doing that, I myself would have been entrenched in those courses by this point, even though I would have been less qualified to teach them than I am now.
I told Q. that I wanted to stay home with E.
“This is our last year with him before he goes to school,” I said. “If he’s going to be it for us, I don’t want to have lost that year.”
So it looks like I am getting an unexpected year as a SAHM.
E. is going to continue to go to his nursery school, but probably for only three mornings a week rather than three full days. This will undoubtedly be better for him at this point, but we’re not sure how good it’s going to be as preparation for the following year, when our only option for JK is five full days. E. clearly is a child that would have done well with the old half-day program.
We are going to be stretched financially. We’re not going to be in danger of losing our house or anything, but we will have to prioritize differently, and we’re certainly not going to be putting a lot of money away.
But I know that I am lucky. I am lucky in that I have a husband who has a secure job and who makes a good wage, and I am lucky in that my husband wholeheartedly supports my desire to stay at home with E. for this year, while also at the same time understanding that, of course, I will want to do something else eventually. But I don’t have to figure out what that something else is RIGHT NOW.
We’ve never been without an income on my part. It’s fluctuated a lot over the last seven years, but it’s never come anywhere close to what Q. makes. My income was cut in half this past year after my scholarship ran out and I was back on the minimum guarantee. It paid for E’s nursery school with a bit left over to tuck away into our savings.
Losing that safety net is going to be hard for us. We’ve been so careful financially for so long, and we’ve worked so hard to save money, to pay off our mortgage faster, to build up investments, to pay for infertility treatments. We have no debt other than our mortgage. It will be a challenge for us to budget without our extra savings capacity, to feel comfortable with that smaller amount arriving every month, even if it is only for a year.
But Q. and I both believe it will be worth it if it means I can have that year with E.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at all worried about being at home with E. There was a comment made by a parent on Ask Moxie the other day responding to a post about preschool and daycare, where the mother said that she largely sent her children to preschool because she was a strong introvert and she needed the time to herself.
It was like a bomb went off in my head.
I’d somehow forgotten that, even though I’m E.’s Mummy, I’m still an introvert.
I can’t think of anything less well-suited to an introvert than to be a parent of a young child. There is no room for quiet and introspection and solitude when you are faced with such a constant well of need.
I love E. with all my heart, but I still often find being his mother exhausting.
Reading her comment made me feel better about all the times I get tired of E. I’m not actually tired of E. himself, I’m just tired of having someone else around me, asking me questions ALL THE TIME.
Most days I suspect I need his quiet time more than he does. Her comment made me understand (belatedly) why this is so.
My son is also an introvert. He is a delightful, highly sensitive child, who is happiest when he gets to stay at home, doing his own thing, with his mother.
And so, while I am a bit nervous about how I will cope with this uncharted territory (because I have never been free to ‘just’ be E’s mother- I have been working on the dissertation since before he was born), I know that E. will thrive.
I have promised myself that when E. is at nursery school, that time is my own.
I will not run errands.
I will not clean the house.
I would like to write, but I recognize that there will be some time after the dissertation is finished where I will not be able to do so. But maybe a bit later, after my brain starts to think about other things again, I can pick up the pieces of story in my head.
And at some point I will start to think about the long-term, and what we will do, what I will do, if this year was not just an anomaly, but an indication of what is to come.
There are huge advantages to being a contract lecturer when you are not the primary wage earner in your family.
It would keep Q. and I in academia together. Our years would follow a similar pattern. We would be free for holidays at the same time.
I could refuse to teach in the summer semester and be home with E. in the summers once he’s in school, which is something I’ve always wanted to do.
I could have relatively flexible hours and be around for most school pick ups and drop offs (and the ones I couldn’t make, Q. would be able to organize his schedule to make himself available).
I have known for a number of years now that I don’t want a tenure-stream position, even if one were to come available (which will happen when pigs fly, given how bad the job market is). I just don’t think there’s room for two in one family if there are children involved. A tenure-stream position demands too much of you. I’ve seen how hard Q. works. We can’t both work that hard without abdicating most of the day-to-day responsibilities of raising our son.
I’m just not willing to do that.
But contract work would have been a good alternative.
I may have to start thinking about other options, but I’m not ready to do that yet. I’ve been in school, as a student or a teacher or both, for almost my entire life. I am suited to it. It nourishes me. Contemplating a life built on other rhythms seems impossibly alien right now.
In an ideal world, I would find a job I wouldn’t hate going to in the morning, that allowed me to be there when my son got home from school most of the time, that would let me spend the summers with him.
Contract teaching would have worked, but that door might not open for me.
I’m not sure what else is out there that might fit the bill.
If I were really, really brave, I would say outright that I know exactly what I want to do: I want to write. But I have not earned the right to say this. I haven’t tried, not really, not properly, to write, to see if I could succeed at it. And it’s not fair to Q. to saddle him with the financial responsibilities of the family (which would cause him enormous stress), and it is not fair to myself to cut myself off from some sort of position that would grant me financial independence and stability if anything were to happen to my marriage. (I do not think that anything would happen to my marriage, but I am a child of divorce and I know what happens to many women who head single-parent families.)
There’s time enough to figure out what I might do.
This coming year belongs to my son, my miracle baby.
I am going to spend my days with him, and I am going to count myself lucky.
Because now I know how close we came to not having anyone else in our house at all.