Dear History Department

 

My graduate school departmental newsletter arrived about a month ago. I promptly opened it, sat on the sofa, ignored my children, and proceeded to pout. For the next 45 minutes, I caught up on former fellow students and the faculty who mentored me in the craft of doing history.

And then I spent the rest of the evening feeling like a loser. My husband simply sat by and watched the emotional carnage unfold. He endures this unpleasantness every time that stupid annual newsletter arrives.
 
I proceeded to wallow and to feel un-smart and unproductive, as if my life doesn’t count because it doesn’t have words like “published her 11th anthology” and “Distinguished Professor Lecture” beside my name.
Academia has a toxic way of ruining your psyche like that.
 
That’s the track I was on, the very air I breathed during the course of my four years of graduate work. I completed all of my doctoral coursework and was two months away from qualifying exams {and the impending 5-year-dissertation process} when I bowed out. We welcomed our daughter, whose sense of timing is nothing if not both perfect and unpredictable, during my final year of coursework. Being mom, wife, and stressed-out PhD candidate made my hair fall out and gave me panic attacks. The prospect of “dissertating” for as many as five more years seemed impossible. {History PhDs have the longest gestation period of any PhD out there. It’s the nature of the research and writing. They also have the worst pay. We are a twisted bunch of martyrs.} 
 
Anyway, I’m a PhD dropout.
 
Thankfully, I had supportive mentors who told me I’d be just fine, who were sad to say goodbye but who cared about me more as a real person than they cared about me as a scholar. Academics sometimes get a bad rap as unfeeling, all or nothing, tenure or die, crazy people. And sometimes they are. I guess I was lucky enough to get the wonderful ones.
Somehow I got full-time employment in my field without a PhD and spent the next five years working at what I loved: doing history and mentoring students.
 
And then I stopped.
 
I stopped to do something that I wanted to do way more than history, way more than teaching, way more than accolades, way more than even finishing a PhD.
 
I stopped to be a stay-at-home mom. It was one the best and hardest decisions I’ve ever made. It’s also harder than any other job I’ve ever had. And to top it off, the pay is even worse than a history professor’s salary.
 
Of all the female alumni who have come and gone through my alma mater’s history department and then opted to leave the field for full-time motherhood, you’d think a few of them would write in.
 
I have yet to see one.
 
Maybe they are all sitting home, momentarily feeling like losers, afraid that their life updates might be frowned upon by those who have done more in the profession.
 
So I decided to start a movement. It will likely be a short-lived, one-woman movement because I doubt the alumni newsletter will lower their standards to print my ridiculous personal update. Lucky for you, it will still be published. Because I have a blog. {Insert maniacal laughter.}
 

Marian {Class of 2000}: An assistant professor of American History at {anonymous university} and curator of an 1840s anti-slavery church, she traded in her college classroom three years ago for school around the kitchen table with her three children, ages 9, 6, and 2. She’s still teaching history, among other subjects, but she can now send disrespectful students to their rooms if necessary.

Being a full-time mom is a lot like trying to get tenure: The hours are long, the pay is lousy, and it’s hard to get the respect you deserve. But it’s a virtuous and rewarding job and that’s what keeps one going. In that way, it’s not much different than her former job as a history professor.

In her spare time, she sometimes hides in the closet from her children and plucks out an assortment of posts on her blog, the place where she dumps what’s left of her brain. In a sense {and to use some of her old graduate-school vernacular}, she is living out traditional constructs of motherhood and domesticity within the context of a modern, one-room schoolhouse.

She will be forever nostalgic and grateful for the four years she spent at The University of Kentucky. The faculty and students there were among the most gracious and generous people she’s known, great mentors in the craft of doing history.

 
You may think that’s a joke, one of those letters you write just to vent and then toss in the trash. Think again, my friends. With fear and trepidation, I hit “send,” breathed deeply, shut my laptop, and embraced closure. It’s like I broke up with, once and for all, an identity that I almost married but then cheated on and broke up with. And we all know that breaking up is hard to do, even when we know it’s for the best.
 

I used to read a book with my Freshman Seminar students entitled, Finding God at Harvard. One of my favorite essays in that book, “A Childrearing Interlude,” recounts a similar story. Kathryn Wiegand, a Harvard graduate {turned stay-at-home mother of five} tells of the day she received her alumni newsletter. She was supposed to check a box, a box beside such noble vocations as doctor, attorney and concert musician. Near the bottom of the page she finally found her box. Beside the space it read, Childrearing Interlude.

Wiegand asked herself, This is not my real life? If this is an interlude, what exactly is the real thing? Something that pays? Something with a title? Something that requires a degree?
 
As she muses about what she would be doing with her life if not for said Childrearing Interlude, she arrives at an important conclusion:
Thank God, who saves us from what we think we want.
It’s one of my favorite quotes of all time, one I’ve considered often as I’ve toyed with what might have been, despite contentment and peace with what is.
 
It didn’t take long to get to the root of my newsletter lament: Pride {mingled with a bit of legitimate nostalgia.} Just when I think I’ve moved on from something, a silly prompt proves otherwise. It’s ever-so-difficult to find that elusive balance between desiring good things, that we are actually good at doing, and yet daily dying to ourselves and the vain ambitions that can consume us.
 
Our callings, as women and as mothers, don’t all look the same. And honestly, I love the diversity that we each bring to the table. But one characteristic remains universal: Motherhood demands sacrifice and a realignment of priorities, whether we work in the home or out of the home. I know. I’ve done both.
 
Just this morning, I’ve scraped oatmeal from the floor, wiped bottoms and noses, uncovered a covert painting project in the garage instigated by none other than the stealth two-year-old and disciplined all three children for everything from sulky attitudes and excessive screaming to the aforementioned slinging of oatmeal.
 
But we all know that the hilarious and heart-warming moments outshine the difficult and disgusting. And that one day the difficult and disgusting are remembered as the hilarious. My mom is good to remind me of that.
 
Wiegand says it well, In dying to ourselves we give up the lordship of our own lives and thereby make space for his.
 
Maybe I should retract my newsletter update. Maybe I should scribble it all out and simply write:
 
Making space for his lordship, which is, in fact, a full-time endeavor and not in any way, shape, or form an interlude.
 
//////
 
{If you would like to read “A Childrearing Interlude,” I found it on-line and you can read it here.}
*amazon link is an affiliate link.

Comments

  1. says

    You so clearly articulated my state of mind yesterday. When hubs got home from work, I collapsed in a tearful heap sobbing “I suck at domesticity.” and proceeded to wallow in self degradation, pointing out all my many failures. I was always so very GOOD at my career. Why can’t I seem to get this stay-at-home gig? Is it really that hard? Or do I indeed suck at it? This is a real question for me. It seems to come so naturally to some women.

    And how will I ever ever add homeschool to the plate that I can already barely balance?

    I love how transparent you are. It makes me want to come sit at your kitchen table. And it gives me hope for my journey.

  2. says

    {{{Scooper}}}
    Once again — no kidding — you have written my thoughts and shared them with the blogosphere. Not that I have 3 kids and am a PhD dropout, but the feelings of inadequacy when I read the alumni newsletters! Yup, nothing next to my name either. But wow! you sent in an awesome entry!

    God has called us to be set apart and to nurture the blessings (children) he has given us. It seems lately that I’ve been needing a daily reminder of that!

    With p/t employment, (for which I am grateful);a soon to be homeschool high school graduate; a soon to be middle school graduate; loving husband; and running an efficient home, my life can look a lot like the plate spinning guy who can barely keep up with all the plates.

    Thank you for this post. I pray He gives you a glimpse of what you are accomplishing daily for the Kingdom.
    Love ya!

  3. says

    Standing ovation and loud applause!

    Way to go, Scooper, for being brave and being your very wonderful self. So glad you labeled what I’ve been doing for the last 18 years. I had no idea I was on a childbearing interlude. So what happens in three years when my youngest turns 18? What do you do with yourself when the interlude is over?

    Girl, you can write some words!! Such talent!

  4. The Man says

    I cannot help but comment on this post. You underestimate yourself and the benefits of your decision! You have given up so much so that others can succeed. I would not be where I am today without you. Your family would not be where it is today. You know this deep in your heart so be encouraged by the fruits of your decision for the Lord knows. You and your decision are so beautiful to me.

  5. says

    I spent about 30 minutes this afternoon working on a comment that seemed even close to worthy of putting at the end of this amazing blogpost. Then …click. Then…malfunction. Then . . . gone, disappeared, vanished.

    But I’m thankful now, because all I have to say is this: The Man and Mom are joined at the hip on this one!!!!!

    Love you forever.

  6. says

    Oh how well I remember the days of the “many dollars” paycheck. High heels, short skirts and 100 dollar blouses.
    I traded all that in for a wonderful husband, a batch of 4 kiddos and pajamas until 4pm when I sometimes frantically get dressed so my hubbie doesn’t see me the same way he did last night. And there are days I don’t even care that he walks in the door and I’ve yet to do anything but school and brush my teeth.
    Somehow I also remember not being very happy at the end of that high paying job. It was near the end that I came back to the One who loves me most. He had other plans for my life.
    Now I listen to Chuggington in the den and sip coffee on my front porch wondering why my dog keeps scratching. Think they’ll find me?
    Love you so much….
    julie
    http://www.homeschoolblogger.com/juliestew

  7. says

    Dear Scooper,
    I have been following your blog for quite sometime now as I truly enjoy your writing style and I learn so many things about your culture.

    Life in a third world country like ours is different and I am amazed to see how “first world” living is like.

    But with this post, I realize how much commonality everyone shares, regardless of how rich or poor you are as a nation. Issues about work, about mothering, about dreams and aspirations remain the same. I am touched by your post and inspired by the words of encouragement and support that you also received from family and friends.

    I am a big, big fan of your work.

  8. says

    I love you, Scooper.

    For your realness and your transparency and the fact that you are not in an interlude–you’re in the midst of a very real life that is truly life.

    And though I don’t know them, I love your Mom and Dad for their comments here. And, I’m guessing, this isn’t the first time they’ve made comments like this to you. And so today you are everything that makes you you.

    That’s a very good package.

  9. Jenny Keaton says

    Catching up on your posts…I had a semi-melt down the other day when I couldn’t think quickly enough to correctly answer Jeopardy questions (catagories in both English and Music, wouldn’t you know). The thing is, I know my girls better than anyone else in the world does. They are what I “do.” And that’s more than okay.

  10. Anonymous says

    I found your blog via The Nester and I am so glad I did! This post resonated with me in such a powerful way. It is sometimes hard to put into words the discouragement and defeat the enemy tries to bring to us as mothers. I walked away from a path headed toward law school to enter full-time ministry with my husband. Many of my teachers told me I was crazy. That was 18 years ago and I still get that “what if” syndrome every now and then. You beautifully articulated how I have felt over the years, although I feel that way less and less as time goes on.

  11. says

    Hello,

    This is the first time I have been to your blog…I read about you from The Nester.

    I too am a SAHM, and WOW did you say this soooo clearly!

    A note from your children:

    Mom,

    Thank YOU for being home with me today to clean up my oatmeal and thank YOU for being there to wipe my nose….and not some other woman.

    I love you…

    They may not think about it now, but oh will they later when they have kids :O)

    I will be back to read more, but now, laundry is calling my name.

    Jen F.

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