Last week I helped serve at a teacher’s thank you luncheon at my daughter’s school. It was the first time I had really been on the other side of the table, so to speak, since leaving the teaching profession five years ago. I plated up pasta and salads, cleared dirty plates from tables, asked if I could refill drinks or bring more dessert. There aren’t many perks to being a teacher these days; the occasional luncheon and free food is about the highlight. Teachers work long hard hours and they surely deserved a little pampering. Even if was in the form of baked ziti and pound cake.
As much as I liked the idea that I was helping to show my appreciation for their time and efforts, I must admit that serving them was difficult for me. I didn’t know it would be. Because I realized that even though I had been a teacher for seven years and have a BA in education and an MA in English, I no longer belonged to the teaching community. I was no longer a “member” of their professional club.
I walked around picking up bits and pieces of conversations; students and progress and parents and lesson plans, and just a few years ago in a different school in a different state that would have been me sitting there talking about those things.
But now I was “just a mom” who was clearing the dirty dishes and wrapping up leftover pastries and for the first time I really missed belonging to a professional community where I felt smart and valued and like I had something to offer. I don’t want to go back to teaching at all and have no desire to be back in a classroom; but I do miss feeling like an educated professional and having people view me as such.
Now before you all go filling up the comment section condemning me for saying “just a mom”, or implying that mothers are not smart or valued or don’t have anything to offer, and before you get out your daily quote calendar and post messages about “motherhood being the toughest job you’ll ever have,” hear me when I say:
I get it.
I know. I’ve been a stay-at-home or work-from-home mom on and off for twelve years, I’ve been on both sides of the professional woman or professional mom argument and there are benefits to both. And drawbacks to both. So finish reading.
Four years ago I quit teaching to work on my writing. Since that time I have published articles in various magazines, started a blog, got a website, ordered business cards, am working on a book of my own and editing a book for someone else. I have joined writers forums to tried and “belong” to the world of professional writers, hoping to switch my professional community from teachers to writers.
It’s been a difficult transition. I still do not feel like I belong in this group either. I don’t have a background in journalism. Unlike many writers my age, I don’t have twenty years of experience under my belt. And honestly, I’m not sure which facet of writing interests me most: creative non-fiction, fiction, journalism, ghost writing, or technical writing. Regardless of how much progress I may have made in the last four years, I still feel like a poseur when I say to others “I’m a writer.” I don’t have many clips to show others, I can’t seem to get into a national magazine and my bank account has, well, a lot of zeros on the both sides of the decimal point.
Not that long ago Rene posted about reinventing herself and her struggle to find her place and path. Even Maria Shriver admitted that she had no idea what she was going to do next, now that she and Arnie have split. I know I’m not alone trying to find my path or my place, but knowing there are others stranded on the ship with you doesn’t make being stranded any easier.
When I was a teenager I used to say that all I wanted in life was to be a good wife and a good mom. I really thought that was my calling. I also thought I’d be married early in college and when 24 came and went and then 25 came and went, I stopped waiting for a husband and kids and went to grad school. After starting grad school I met my husband. We had our son and two years later had our daughter and two years after that I finished my Masters. And now, seven years beyond that, I have three children, a husband, a house, and write part time from my home office that is littered with markers and pretend wooden food and naked dolls. I no longer belong to the professional teacher crowd and I don’t really belong to the professional writer crowd and I definitely don’t belong to the content-to-stay-home-and-be-a-professional-domestic-engineer-crowd. I really, really wish I belonged to that last one.
The truth of it is that our world measures success by profit and product. Currently my profit is pretty nil, and if I were to judge my success on my three living products…well, let’s just say some days I’d order more and some days I’m begging for a recall.
I enjoy many parts of motherhood, but I also enjoyed getting up in the morning, getting dressed up for work, going to work with an iced coffee in my hand, and performing a job I was trained to do and knew how to do well. At the end of two weeks, I’d go to my teacher’s mailbox and rip open my paycheck that rewarded me for my efforts. Money I earned being good at something that was respected and tangible and came with a contract. Profit. Product. Success.
Yes, yes, I know, the rewards I will reap when my children are self-sufficient adults who grow into great parents themselves all because of my motherly love, patience, and self-sacrificing nature, should be enough to motivate me to quit my bitching and go bake some cupcakes for my kids. I know that and I’m okay with that. Sorta.
Because in a two years when my youngest child is in school full time, I’ll be looking for a professional community to belong to more than ever. I’ll be trying to navigate my path and my place, having no clue what form it may take, just like Maria Shriver (only hopefully I’ll still be married). Perhaps if I keep writing and blogging and these books I’m working on come to fruition and I see my name in print, maybe then I’ll feel like I crossed the great divide: went from poseur to professional. Of course then I’ll have a product. And hopefully some profit too. And then, like Rene, I’ll be standing on my own stage of sorts, knowing this is where I belong. Hopefully.
I’m curious how many of you are still wondering what you’ll be when you grow up? How do you measure success? Do you feel successful? Why or why not?
Rachel Vidoni is a professional writer and blogger and former classroom teacher. She is a mediocre mother to three pretty neat kids. You can follow her humor and family blog at www.eastcoastmusings.blogspot.com. You might not be a better parent after reading her blog, but you will feel like one.