Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Between Worlds

Most of the time I am sure of myself. What I mean by this is, my sense of self is something I can usually pinpoint and own, even in and amid the many varied roles I fill in my life. A glance at the "About Me" here on my blog (currently in the right sidebar) names just a few of these roles, though there are even more roles that aren't listed there: daughter, daughter-in-law, sister, aunt, godmother (this one's new this past weekend!), choir member, parishioner, and so on.

Now, generally speaking this is a sentiment any person should relate to---every person is many things to many people. But for my part, the two of my roles that I've been ruminating on lately are "academic librarian" and "mother". Or more broadly: professional and mother.

As I've written about at great length before, I am more than OK with the fact that I am both a mother and a professional who works in the workforce. I was a professional before I became a mother, but even as a committed professional I also knew that if God led my life to where becoming a mother, in the context of an Orthodox Christian marriage and family, was suddenly a possibility, I would never do anything to prevent it (or "plan" it or "wait until we're ready for kids" or any of those things). When we were dating and Paul and I discussed the possibility of marriage, I shared this with him and framed it as a bit of a deal breaker for me. Fortunately for me (because he's wonderful and even then I loved him), he was more than open to having children as God saw fit for us and not trying to control it ourselves. But part and parcel to this was the simple fact that, if it did happen right away for us, there was no question I would continue to work as I became a mother and he a father. He understood this. So we were married...and then I became pregnant, and Bookie's first due date was exactly nine months after our wedding day. Thus it was I suddenly found (and find) myself both a professional in the workforce and a mother.

So far, I feel I've walked this line pretty well. My workplace is amazingly supportive, my husband is amazingly supportive, the people in our lives are amazingly supportive of our family and all we have on our plates (my husband works too of course). To make sense of my world, I have several different communities I belong to for different parts of my life: my co-workers and professional network for work-related things, and my mommy-groups, -blogs, and -friends for mommy-related things, to name a few. And navigating between and within these communities usually feels natural, organic and right.

Often, though, as I navigate these separate though sometimes overlapping communities, I encounter information or conversations that are firmly rooted in either one or the other of these worlds. And I admit, sometimes when this happens, I am caught off guard by the jarring experience of diving into reading something I was sure I would relate to (being a card-carrying member of said group), only to realize there is something about it that, basically, doesn't apply to me, or applies to me but in a different way.

This happened yesterday when I read a very thoughtful, honest post on a blog I follow, and the rich comments thread beneath it, about finding a healthy balance between "me time" as a mother and the actual work of mothering. At first glance this sounds like something that I'd certainly relate to (and I do!). But then I realized, as I read on and especially delved into the comments, that unlike the very strong and awesome women who were commenting (mostly mamas, many of whom I know IRL, whose work as mothers I respect immensely, and whose friendships I value highly)---unlike most of them (to my knowledge), in addition to my mothering role I have a professional outlet where I can exercise the parts of myself that don't directly come into play when I am mothering Bookie.

And yet, despite this luxury (in the context of the problem being discussed), I still crave "me time" that isn't professional in its nature. God only knows how long it's been since I've grabbed one of my favorite YA novels and just read it because I want to. For instance, I'm dying to reread Ender's Game before the movie comes out later this year. It's not likely to happen, though, at least not in the way it used to before I became a mother, because of two very different but equally important responsibilities I have: 1) mothering Bookie and putting her needs before mine, and, 2) putting any additional energy I have left over, around mothering Bookie, toward the immense amounts of reading, writing and research I need to do in order to maintain and succeed in my professional life. There's no question that, after I've applied my daily quota of energy across these two responsibilities (not to mention being a loving wife to my husband! Bless his supportive and sacrificial heart...), all I want to do at that point is sleep (when the baby lets me), in order to build my energy again for the following day.

I thought about leaving some of this in a comment on that thought-provoking blog post, but somehow felt that the balancing act I'm describing here is unique to my circumstance as a working mother. So I decided to share about it here and link back to the post, rather than hijack a comments thread that feels, to me at least, firmly rooted solely in the world of motherhood. As I read the post and the comments that followed, and experienced my response to them, I was suddenly aware of myself as "between worlds".

That being said, you are not reading a post about loneliness or separateness, but one about adapting and belonging...

On the question of "me time" or the lack thereof as I experience it, i.e., as a working mom, I assure you dear readers that I am not deprived of light and beauty that is unfettered by my mothering or professional responsibilities. Instead, my solution has been to reimagine what "me time" looks like in my new life as a wife and mother, and interestingly enough it has manifested itself in my sharing my usual sources of light and beauty with the two people I love most: my husband and my daughter. So, whereas before we had Bookie I'd grab a book and spend a few hours getting lost in it, now instead I grab the same book and we read it aloud as a family. We started this with Anne of Green Gables, a book that is a balm to my tired soul. It is all the more enjoyable because I am introducing my Bookie to Miss Anne Shirley, my dear (fictional) bosom friend, which fills me with a warmth and joy that would be absent if I were to read the book solo for a few hours. This is just one example, but I've been trying to build into our days and weeks as a family opportunities to feed the parts of me that otherwise may become neglected amid the considerable responsibilities I and my husband have willingly assumed in our daughter and our work lives.

As for the out-of-sorts feeling that sometimes (not always!) comes from navigating between worlds, the best solution that has presented itself to me has been to build a third world between the two. For me this meant that, when the opportunity arose to help form a closed Facebook group for working moms which called upon my talents as a Facebook researcher to help get it off the ground, I took it. The story of how I got involved in the group is still being written, as the group is just under a week old, so I won't attempt to tell it just yet.

But I will provide the link, in case there are any other working mamas reading this who are also in need of a world between worlds: The Wonderful World of Working Moms (If so, please click and request to join!)

And the group description, so you know the culture of the world I'm linking to: "This is a support group for working moms who strive to mother their babies gently and compassionately. This includes moms who work outside the home or who work at home, but who have jobs in addition to the hard work of being a mom. Any discussion about the unique circumstances, both the struggles and the victories, surrounding being a working mom is welcome. Come join us!"

We just passed 50 members this evening, which is pretty exciting in one week. And the professor in me is cracking up at how my involvement as an admin in this group may play out in my professional life down the line: If the group really takes off, and becomes a large community of support to a considerable number of mamas, I can see myself making the case for my admin work in the group counting toward my service requirement as a member of the faculty at my institution. Traditionally "Service to the Community" means service within your local, geographic community; but we're living in a connected world where the definition of "community" is changing or at least expanding to include virtual, networked communities, like my working mamas Facebook group.

And so, I leave you with the image of me cackling to myself in my unabashed geekdom, as I relish the thought of making the case to my colleagues for my work on a Facebook group being bona fide, valid and valuable service to a very real community, when it comes time to apply for promotion later this year. Oh man that's gonna be awesome.


  1. One of the reasons I volunteer at the library is, I suspect, to get a little of what you probably get through your work: time to be able to use my talents for something other than the immensely important (but immensely draining, and let's be honest, sometimes menial, gross, and tedious) work of mothering small children. I'm comfortable in my choice, but when I am able to leave for the library for a couple of hours, I return refreshed and a lot nicer.

    In general, I dislike essays that say "you must do this and this or you are WRONG." What we must do is love our neighbor as ourselves. What that actually looks like, or how it plays out... well, sometimes it requires locking myself in the bathroom my smartphone and a cup of coffee for 15 minutes.

    1. Nicole, I didn't know you volunteer at the library. How cool! And I definitely agree that there is no one right way to do anything, especially mothering. And the payoff for loving our neighbor as ourselves in this is that we often find community where we perhaps didn't expect to. :) Thank you for the comment!

  2. Very thoughtful post my friend. Yes, there are all sorts of lives and worlds now and it is a new place and time and I think that it is the love and devotion and prayer that we bring to all things that is the key; blessings and love to you my dear and your beloved Bookie and husband!

    1. Thank you Elizabeth! What you say about bringing the same love, devotion and prayer to all of our life's activities and roles is so important. For me at least, it's the single thing that unifies them all, and keeps me from falling apart into millions of disparate pieces that have no cohesion. It's how I can experience my life as an integrated whole: seeing every task and every kind of work, no matter the context, as a way of glorifying God by loving others.

  3. I keep meaning to mention to you that I read this when it was first posted and never commented. I love the idea of grabbing the book and reading aloud as a family. When I first read this, I immediately went up to our crazy attic and grabbed the first three Harry Potter books. Unfortunately, William was not interested. I used to read the Narnia Chronicles to my little sister while we were waiting for our mother to get off work one summer (she was old enough to actually understand them though). I have been saving my extremely worn Anne of Green Gables copies since childhood, in case I had a daughter. Is it wrong/weird that it didn't occur to me to read them to my son? I think perhaps I might try... just so that I can get my annual read done!

    And, as a side note, I have NO idea how you have the energy and enthusiasm to pursue a master's degree at this stage of your life, but I greatly admire it.

    1. Thank you for the comment, Jennie!

      Yes, I admit that even though we've read Anne of Green Gables once or twice aloud, the baby is now too squirmy and uninterested for it to last very long at this stage. I'm hoping once she has words and can understand stories she will become interested again. And hey, you could totally give Anne a try with your son! I can't *wait* to get to Harry Potter with mine. :)

      And thank you re: your comment about me doing a Master's right now. All I can say is, it's a *very* good thing I began it when I was not only not a mother yet, but also unmarried! I got the bulk of the program and coursework done before our wedding, and while these last few courses plus the thesis have been not easy while pregnant and then with a baby, it helps that I'm so close to being done and can see the craziness that is my workload will soon end when my thesis is complete... Just a few more months...