Please note: the opinions and experiences expressed in this blog post are my own and any statements I make about my personal experience with motherhood are not intended to invalidate or demean anyone else’s. We each have our own journey through life, and as women, we all have our own perspective on motherhood. This is mine.
To begin, I’m going to make two shocking statements: First, I don’t really like little kids. Second, I really hate crafts. There I said it. It’s not that I don’t appreciate little kids – they’re cute and all, and I really love mine, but…I’m not the person who asks to hold other people’s babies or who has a gift for engaging little ones. I certainly respect people who work with little kids. Preschool and Kindergarten teachers should be the highest paid professionals in the country. As for crafts? Hate really isn’t a strong enough word. I loathe all crafting activities. I have no skill for sewing, knitting, crocheting, painting, stenciling, or decoupage and I genuinely dislike doing it. I would rather teach the Krebs cycle than scrapbook. I’m just wired differently.
When I was in high school, one of my only options for making money was babysitting, but I quickly realized that childcare was not my arena of expertise. Playing with Barbies, trucks, Legos, playdough, singing songs, and making up games? Gouge-my-eyes-out-boring. I felt a desperate panic when I realized that I had to entertain the kids I was watching between dinner and bedtime. Taking care of infants was terrifying – they were tiny bundles of need and chaos. I could never discern what need hadn’t been met in order to quell the crying. But I needed the cash, so I did it. When I got a little older and had an opportunity to work in a lab as a high school intern, I fled the world of babysitting with relief. I loved the laboratory – it was clean, quiet, organized, and predictable. I was never required to be creative or engaging to diminutive humans. I was in my niche.
Fast-forward to my married life: Shortly after we were married, I became terrified that I would become pregnant while I was in graduate school. I had seen many women in my situation have their undergraduate and graduate degrees derailed by an un-planned-for pregnancy. I made monthly phone calls from my lab at BYU to my husband at work with the triumphant statement, “Not pregnant!” I dodged the bullet for two years and I graduated BYU with a Master’s degree in Microbiology.
Sparing you the circuitous journey of the next few years, my husband completed his schooling, had started a job, and I had found my passion for teaching Microbiology as an adjunct professor at a local community college. I’ll never forget the conversation I had with my husband one day. In essence he said to me, “You know, we both have fairly stable jobs now, and I have health insurance, so, um, why don’t we have a baby?” That’s right. My husband had to talk me into getting pregnant.
The moment I looked down at the positive pregnancy test, room began to spin, and my life flashed before my eyes. I could see it: days and nights with terrifying, chaotic infants. Years of crafts and playdough and Legos and trucks and Barbies. I felt that same desperate panic when I realized that in 9 short months I was going to be the one in charge of a tiny, chaotic, completely dependent little human. It was like babysitting all over again, except I wasn’t going home at the end of the night and I wasn’t getting paid.
After a month or so of pondering on my impending foray into motherhood, I’d wrapped my head around becoming a mother and I was actually looking forward to bringing a child into the world. I had found a peace somewhere inside me, and the panic had started to dissipate slightly. Then I had a miscarriage. The loss was immense, as all those who have suffered a miscarriage (or many miscarriages) know. So we tried again. I gave birth to my first son when I was 30. The second and third sons arrived when I was 33 and 35.
Through all of this, I never considered giving up my teaching job. In fact, I planned my pregnancies around the summer semester when I could take a break postpartum, and in all three of my pregnancies, I was teaching classes and labs until the day before I gave birth. After my first son was born, I was able to rearrange my teaching schedule so that I taught classes at night and on the weekend so that I could be home during the day. My husband would walk in the door in the evening, I would grab my bag, hand him the baby saying, “He’s poopy!” and race to my class. The quiet ride in the car to school gave me time to settle and center myself. An evening teaching undergraduates and pre-nursing students about science was a welcome reprieve. Teaching microbiology continually challenges and inspires me, and the opportunity to have an adult conversation maintained my sanity during those years when our boys were very young.
Please don’t get me wrong: I love my children with a fierce mother bear love that scares and confuses me sometimes. I have blogged before at Segullah and elsewhere about my experience with my oldest son, and our life’s journey with him has not been easy. My other two sons are beautiful, smart, funny, sweet, and kind, but at 23 months apart, their first 5 years were hard. Legos, Bey Blades, superhero costumes, Origami Yoda, and Phineas and Ferb adorn our life. Having an infant and a stubborn 2-year-old who refused to remove his Batman costume to go to the YMCA was a rough slog. Regardless, I’m continually amazed by the joy that they bring into my life.
Now that school is out for the summer, the afternoons stretch out in front of me like a marathon and I still have no idea how to fill them. I still am not any good at creative play, and I still hate crafts. But, we go on trips to the local science center, art museum, the pool, the beach, and the park. We don our lab coats and do “magic science” with baking soda, vinegar, and food coloring. And there are days when I tell the boys to go and play while I close the door to my office so that I can work on the textbook that I’m editing.
I have come to accept, love, and some days even rejoice in my role as a mother. I feel the weight of this aspect of my life resting heavily on my shoulders. I’m keenly aware that my actions, attitudes, and involvement in my children’s lives have an immense, even eternal impact. It is a continual balancing act to meet their needs and maintain my professional life. I have made many sacrifices in my career, including giving up offers for full-time tenure track positions, in order to fulfill my role as mother to my sons. Recently, I stopped teaching entirely and began freelance writing work partly due to the fact that my oldest son’s medical needs had become more acute and I needed to have a job that I could do remotely from home or the hospital. But I have never considered giving up working. I love my children and I love my work, and daily I strive to find a balance between the two.