Wednesday, January 11, 2012

On Quitting

I am a raging feminist.
I don't really advertise this fact.  I shave my legs.  I have a feminine haircut.  But I rage.

This means I endorse (violently defend) women's right to choice.  [I'm not actually debating reproductive rights; good discussion on that one here on Rixa's site, however, if you're up for that].  I think women are awesome and intelligent and multi talented with God given gifts to develop for the building up of society, family, community, and self.  Hide that light under a bushel?  Oh no!  Want to work?  Get thine ass out there and get a job.  Want to stay home?  AWESOME!  Want to combine the two by working part time, working from home, or running your own daycare?  Rock on.  You all rock my world.  And I'm so glad to live in a country, in a time, in a society where choice is possible.

A few weeks ago, I quit my job.  Woah, nelly, that was hard for me to do, emotionally.  Partly because I come from a line of women who work(ed--many are retired).  My mom and her sisters worked.  My other aunts worked.  My grandmothers worked.  Part time, full time, time off til the youngest was in school: this looked different for everyone, but they all worked.  Some from necessity and others from choice, but I think all of them liked working.  It's empowering, contributing tangibly to something important outside your home, you know?  And bringing home money.  I just always assumed I would work, too.  Since I had Ayden I have opted mostly to work part time.  Sometimes I worked full time one week, none the following week, or full time for a few months here and there.  And for a short, six month period when Brent was at job training I worked sixty hour work weeks to put food on the table and pay for our house.  Because training cops and paying them at the same time is somehow ridiculous.  Anyways.  That period of time was very, very hard, but I liked being the breadwinner for a bit.  It was quite nice, caring for my family by providing for them.  Being the main (only) source of income and actually doing not a bad job of it.  I don't endorse sixty hour work weeks, especially when your poor kids are apart from their daddy and have the added weight of far less time with mommy as she frantically tries to pull in enough to survive on, but the breadwinning part was nice. 

[oh, and did I mention I was pregnant with Riley?  Oh, and did I mention that I worked in a very demanding job with a bunch of men who hated working with pregnant women?  Oh, yes.  And did I mention how very much I missed my husband when he was away?  The worst part was the loneliness.  But most of you know all that because you've been reading since those days!!!  Ah, fun times.]

Anyways, after Riley was born and we had three kids I went back to work very part time, one day a week.  But you know, even that was insane.  Nobody ever had clean underwear, school notices got lost, playdates got forgotten, and our house was a disaster.  We both felt like we were running a relay race, full out sprinting all the time; either we were working our rather demanding jobs, or we were running the home show alone while the other one was working (or at least, it felt like it, even though I only worked ONE day a week).  Our kids always had one parent or the other with them, but it was too rushed.  Too crazy.  Too wild for us, as the adults.  It wasn't the life I wanted, because you really only get ONE life, and you build it, you choose it, you live it, right?  So I wanted to build something a little different.  Something with a little more calm, a great deal more peace, and something that would enable me to have four kids and still sink my teeth into a solid relationship with each one of them.  Every time my life gets crazy I evaluate it and think, what can I do?  Sometimes I just readjust my thinking a little, or go to bed at a different time, or for awhile after we adopted Matthew I got a babysitter for two hours once a week so I could paint (wow, I wish we could afford that now).  And sometimes, I subtract something from my life, just to enhance the quality of the rest of my life.  Not wanting to subtract any people or anything, I decided to subtract my job.

This is scary.  I have to give up full control over income to my husband.  No more saving up my income and living on his when we had an extra bill or something.  No more working a few extra shifts just to save up for something we wanted.  I have to just relinquish control and allow my hubs to carry it all.  This feels so ultra non feminist (for ME).  I've always had some sort of an income, pittance or not.  And now I don't.  Well, I have CCTB and Universal Child Care benefits from the government (hello, I love Canada!!!), which, because I have so many kids, amounts to almost $500 per month.  But that's a pretty low income.  :S
SO.  I'm coming to terms with the relinquishing of control AND the fading of a professional persona and a professional dream I had.  I'm okay, I was ready to leave my job anyways and I feel like I'm morphing as far as professional dreams go.  I've changed my mind for now with regards to midwifery school and I'm going to just take what little, tiny bits of time I have and devote them to writing, art, and fiber crafting.  (Fancy word for crochet, but includes knitting and hopefully also learning felting).  I have always been an artist first, and a scientist second.  Being pragmatic I know that artists don't make a living very often, so I figured as an artist I needed a day job.  Hence, science.  Much more lucrative (though looking at my Ambulance Service wage, NOT ACTUALLY MUCH.  Ha ha.).  I didn't also figure in kids for that equation, and was finding I couldn't do justice to all three: art, science, and family, so science got the axe.  Too bad science was the one with the paycheque.

The actual living life without a job is (mostly) really nice.  My home is more organized.  My kids are always in clean underwear, unless they pee in them, and I have scraps of time to crochet and paint.  And more will come, soon, because every nanosecond these kids grow a foot and a half and accrue better vocabulary until I need a dictionary just to keep up with after school conversation (said dictionary needs to include all Wii terminology and Club Penguin characters, BTW), and pretty soon I will have four in school and more time for crafting and arting and all manner of work with no pay.  I like my life, it is manageable, it is good, it is full.  But the image of my life is harder for me to cope with.  What people think, or might think, when they ask me that inevitable, "So what do you do?"
Ah, um, uh... I'm a doula!  is what I usually come up with.  Or I'm an artist works, too.  I hate being put in a box.  And I hate even more the potential of being put in a drone box, ykwim?  That stereotype, that drone mom with all those kids and a  minivan and churchy ideas and conservative mennonite hair.  You know that mom.  I'm allergic to becoming that mom.

Funny enough I had this enlightening conversation with a mom friend of mine who has been my friend for over ten years.  She has three kids, and always worked one day a week.  I realized recently that although we worked the same number of days per week, she identifies as a stay at home mom, and I always identified as a working mom.  Isn't that funny?  She considers her job as this side thing she sort of does, but really she's a stay at home mom.  And I considered my job a vocation and a calling as well as claiming motherhood in all its glory and for most of my waking hours.  We worked the same amount.
And even now, I identify with some sort of vocation rather than my relational status.  I can't handle I stay home with my kids as a vocation, because I'm just so much more than what springs to mind when I apply that phrase to myself.  We all are, no matter what, but for me for some reason the title or vocation I give myself needs to be definitive, and it needs to be separate from my being a parent.

When I did quit my paramedic gig, it was because Human Resources called me to ask when I would be returning to work after my maternity leave finished?  Uh, never.  There was an official process and HR and my bosses were quite nice about it, and in the end they wanted to do an exit interview.  I was to drive out to Chilliwack which is forty minutes from my house, and do this interview and hand in my uniforms all at the same time.  I had to cancel my interview on the day of and I was so bummed.  I couldn't figure out why I was moping around with this huge sense of letdown until I figured out, I had been looking forward to one final important, official, jobby thing that required a commute and a uniform and an adult oriented meeting that had nothing to do with anyone stealing anyone else's lunch at school or anyone's behaviour at swimming lessons.  And then it was cancelled.  Boo.

So I'm jobless.  And incomeless.  And HAPPY about staying home and investing in a life I've crafted for myself to be a good balance of kids and home and art and love.  And a wee bit ambiguous about it all.

So.  Quitting.  It's a mixed bag.


Rachel @ Lautaret Bohemiet said...

Woman, I feel ya. I really do. I hope that you really do find some insanely rewarding moments in all of this that make you know - beyond a shaddow of a doubt -- that you did the right thing for YOU at this stage in your life.

And hey, life is long (hopefully) and there will be plenty of time to work again, if that's what you want to do later. And this will just be a small sliver of your story, a small time when you didn't work outside of the home.

I feel the opposite of you in some ways because I used to HATE to be asked what I "did" when I met people. Though I had a great career (doing PR for an awesome architectural firm that focuses on green/sustainable design), I felt like asking me simply about my JOB was so limiting. I do so many other things! And that was even BEFORE I had kids. Haha! I guess I am like your friend in that way. We all have boxes and we all hate to be in just one, don't we?

You rock, Mel. You will be great at whatever you're doing at any given moment, whether it is art, crafts, cooking, doula-ing, or cleaning up pee-stained diapers. xoxo

tamie marie said...

Mel, I was wondering what you would think about writing a book on this subject--a memoir kind of book--on the subject of hating being defined as a stay-at-home mom, and yet being that, etc. All the stuff you wrote about in this post. It just strikes me that SO many people can identify with you.

I have to second so much of what Rachel says. That this part of your life is just part of your life, and when your children get older there will be lots of other things you'll do, money-making or otherwise. (I just met this writer, here at the residency, who must be around 90-years-old. She has an undergrad degree in music. And a master's in theology. And a PhD in psychotherapy. She's been a teacher, and a therapist, a parent, a musician. When her husband died, she went to art school and got a master's in art. Now she's getting a MFA. I mean, aside from the fact that that's a heck of a lot of school, I was also thinking about how many different things she's done in her life. So...keep remembering that this is just one part of the journey.

Also, I have to say that my experience has been along the lines of Rachel's, kind of, in not liking to be defined by a career, but that's mostly because I haven't had much of a career as an adult. There were those 4 years I was chaplain, and that's pretty much it, in my whole adult life. I feel ashamed about that, and I simultaneously feel like I shouldn't only be defined by my job, which is so much how society defines us. Of course, as women, they also define us by our relationships, and that's been a hard one for me too, for obvious reasons. I often feel like a huge failure for not having the kids I'm supposed to have, and for not being married.

Maybe the broader point here is that at some point we have to figure out how to say fuck it to everyone else's perceptions and expectations. Which is hella hard, imo, but it sure does feel enslaving to be living according to others' perceptions, you know? But maybe the thing for you is your OWN perceptions, eh?

Rachael @ The Variegated Life said...

Blessings to you, wow.

And anyway the idea that full-time mothering is somehow incompatible with feminism — it's such a narrow view of what feminism is all about.

Please keep writing on this topic. Yes please (says this sleep-deprived WAHM who's really, really looking forward to her upcoming maternity leave).

Caryn Ouwehand said...

Wow. The balance of work and home is so hard. I think your decision was based on all the best reasons in the world. Those 4 little ones are going to be big before you know it...

If money allowed for it... there are times when I wonder if I would like being home too.

melissa v. said...

SO INTERESTING! I'm very glad I wrote on this topic, because it rings honest for a variety of us. I didn't expect anyone to express feeling frustrated at being asked about their job, like Rachel and Tamie, but it makes so much sense. Always my jobs have had a purpose: put me through school, or be a big part of who I am because it's a vocation or a calling with multi layered philosophy and theory behind it that I also engage in...

But if a job is simply a job and not quite so much as I've made it in the past, perhaps it is really narrow to ask someone 'what do you do?' In fact, it obviously is. We are so much more than our jobs.

And to be fair, I did combine work and family for a long time. Just not anymore. And oh, my God we cannot afford it but we are doing it anyways.

I think what is interesting to me is that so many SAHMoms state that they choose to stay home for the betterment of their kids. I actually choose to stay home for myself. Is that selfish? Nah. I just don't believe having a working mom is detrimental to children. I mean, it CAN be, but it can be to have a working dad, if its done in an unhealthy way. But fundamentally, I believe women were designed to be full and equal contributers to all aspects of society. Not solely the family. Thus, I choose to stay home because it makes my life simpler and happier. Particularly in my case because you can't argue that kids with their dad while their mom works are in a bad spot.


And @ variegated Rachel, I will absolutely keep writing on this topic, and I wish you all manner of rest and sleeping in this season of your life! xxoo

@ Caryn, I hear you, man. I think you do an amazing job at the many things you do, and I like you just the way you are. And Silas is so obviously happy. Why mess with success? =)

Emilie said...

Tuff decision to make... I wish you well Melissa! I saw your crochet sea creatures, they are really nice. Nice way to council art and making an income :) Fingers crossed for you.

melissa said...

Add me to the list of people who are glad you wrote about this. Issues of mothering, work, and fulfillment are so very loaded and so different but equally challenging for most of us. It's funny to me how much I can relate to what you're saying, and to the fear of being stuck exclusively in the stay at home mom box, because this is really what I always wanted. Nearly every female role model in my life until fairly recently has happily considered herself a homemaker, and I have the utmost respect for them, so why exactly do I so struggle with the idea myself?

I really can't explain why it's so tough for me, but I think that, like you, my identity was always deeply wrapped up in my work. I liked talking about it, and I was okay with people putting me in the boxes associated with my various jobs. Now that the only honest answer I can give to the question of what I "do" is that I stay home with my daughter, I worry that my box is all too limited. I'm proud of this work, but I fear that others view me as irrelevant, not contributing to society, etc.

But you know what, who really gives a flip about how others view me? I love the way you approach your decisions, and life in general. I love the idea of staying home to keep life simple, to keep it full. You always manage to inspire me.

Tonya said...

I think it's sad that our culture wants to define us by what we DO. How about who we ARE? Melissa, you are so much more than your job, than your role as a mother or a wife or a friend or a daughter or anything. You are all of those things combined. You love life, you love dance, you love art, you love Brent, you love your kids, you love natural parenting, you love ... the list goes on and on and on. You are a passionate woman. Next time someone asks you what you "do", start listing all the things you love, all the jobs you have, all the dreams you have. That is YOU!

African Babies Don't Cry said...

I, too, haven't quite found my groove with the whole stay-at-home-mom thing. I have always worked to, and also come from a long line of workers - but out of necessity rather than want.I love staying at home, and can put up with the awkwardness when people ask what I do :)

I like your answer of Im an artist!

lori said...

Good stuff, Melissa. I was just having a phone conversation with a friend of mine today who quit a very rewarding career to be a stay-at-home mom (although, do we really "stay at home" THAT much, to where it's in our title???) We were discussing the things she misses, and you know, it strikes me that a person HAS TO MOURN those losses. They are very real losses - the continual social interaction with other adults, feeling validated for professional work that contributes to society in a more immediately tangible way, etc. I personally was way ready to let go of those benefits, but then again, my kids came later in life, after I'd already experienced some career type stuff. Your family got started in such a way that you had to suddenly make choices, rather than working for so long that you had time to *dream about staying home.*

Anyway, I'm going to forward my friend the link to what you've written.