Thursday, March 27, 2014

Important Work

The other night, while formative thoughts were drifting and sifting in my brain, I watched a PBS documentary about Maria Montessori. I'd also read a recent blog post that unofficially polled women about how they felt about working/staying home in RETROSPECT. The most common sentiment was regret that there wasn't a middle ground, a flexible option that allowed them to work less. For the past two years, I have basically achieved this, and now I get ready to decide on the next step in my career. Should I stay or should I go?

Maria Montessori and son Mario
Maria Montessori revolutionized the way we teach children. Ironically, she actually made the difficult choice to put her child's care in the hands of someone else until he was 15. She was a doctor doing the important work of applying science to early childhood education. She loved a man, but they chose not to marry because at that time, wives were not allowed to work. They agreed to carry on in secret so that she could continue her career. When she became pregnant, she realized that she would be ostracized as an unwed mother. She gave up her son to a family in the countryside, and she visited from time to time. Finally, when he was fifteen, he told her that he knew she was his mother and asked her to take him with her. She did. By this time, she was well-known and respected internationally for her work in education. Still, she didn't outwardly identify him as her biological son until years later.
The choices women have had to make astound me. I am so grateful for those who came before me who fought for the right for women to work at all, to participate in the academic, intellectual, political world that was threatened by them and unwelcoming to them, yet had a deep impact on their lives. And, I consider the sacrifices and choices made that get us closer and closer to "having it all".

We stayed at the beach with my parents last weekend. The house we stayed at is my mom's friends' home, and it's beautiful. They have expensive taste, nice things, a home designed by them and for them, and the ability to travel. And they have no kids. This is a discussion my mom and I have frequently: what about those people that we love who choose not to have kids? How much are they missing out on? How much are we missing out on? Do we feel bad for each other? For my mom, the conversation also involves a reassurance that in the future, those friends who chose a non-kid life will probably come back to me, and we will not have lost each other for lack of common interests. (Currently, I feel I have lost some of these people for various kid-related reasons, including but not limited to the challenge that some are trying to decide, embrace or accept a kid-free life, or actually trying in private to have a kid, without the prying eyes and opinions of their community. My current child-absorbed life does not help them on their path. but that's another story.)

Overall, though, I've been pondering the women who have made some amazing things happen in the world, who have traveled, championed a cause, written books, created shows, flipped houses, studied endlessly, lived luxuriously, contributed to peace and science, etc. and I realize that most don't have children. Don't get me wrong, my life's work involves raising this amazing son who lights up my heart and will go on to do so for others, but it's more of a personal victory than a public one.  Again, I remind myself that with one child instead of many, these endeavors are not impossible, just slightly trickier. There was a time I pondered whether I would choose to be a mother, and it sounds silly to me now, as if I ever had the ability to not let this being into my life, to change and bend me, to teach me and form me into a better version of myself. But my important work is just beginning, and I still work to balance between toddler poop talk and academic rhetoric. I love that I am both of these, and I love all those who came before me, who struggled to achieve a balance and a space for themselves in this world, thus allowing me to have choices to make.