On the last night of our trip to the U.K., my sweet sister-in-law, in London on her own study abroad trip, gave me this lovely little badge from the British Museum. I wore it at the pub that night with pride and gratitude, but also with mixed feelings.
You see, our time in the U.K. also marked, with Scout’s fourth birthday, the fourth anniversary of me forfeiting any pretense of a career. What had begun as a gentle evolution — from applying for just part-time work when I got pregnant with Pippin, to taking time off from applying after Scout’s birth and a move — has over time become sort of a foregone conclusion. I had intended to find myself another Tiny Job, but with every month I didn’t aggressively apply for jobs, and as I weathered another crummy pregnancy in which I was darn grateful not to have to drag myself around a workplace, it has seemed more certain: right now, and for the foreseeable future, I’m home full-time.
We are incredibly privileged that J’s career (and a healthy dose of frugality) allows a second income to be optional. I’ve mostly been happy with this half-conscious decision. I’ve had the opportunity to homeschool Pippin, to hone my homemaking skills, to spend an hour most afternoons reading (not, despite common beliefs, a perk of the normal librarian workday). It can be frustrating that my co-workers sometimes pee on the floor, that the hours are irregular, that I don’t have a commute to clear my mind, that I just don’t feel as good at this whole SAHM thing as I did at library work, or college. The lack of feedback is most crippling: how can you tell if you’re doing a good job without grades or performance reviews?
Several semesters ago, though, J got to work on a plan with the chair of his department. They’d lead a study abroad trip to the U.K. They’d set it up so our whole family could go. J, his chair and I had all studied abroad during our own time in college and his chair, herself the mother of two almost grown-up girls, worked hard to make sure the needs of a young family figured into the planning. In the end, they even ended up securing a position for me tracking expenditures for the program.
So suddenly, here I was, huddled over a laptop with J, surrounded by receipts in the stark but spacious flat we shared near Euston Station. I was, in addition to shepherding three little kids through tube stations and world-class museums, managing student allowances and handling travel logistics. I was working. Like, a job. WITH A PAYCHECK AND EVERYTHING.
But what I came away with after our six weeks abroad (and my two paychecks) was gratitude for the choices we’ve made in the past few years, even when they’ve just been non-choices or decisions of expediency. I can’t begin to say how much I loved the program, from our kids’ delight to the satisfaction of conversations with the students, from cream tea to the pleasant ache of a ten-mile walk. And none of it would have been possible if I hadn’t opted out, if I hadn’t shelved my librarian identity for however long this season will be.
If I had had a position that wouldn’t give me six weeks off, this trip would not have been possible for our family. If I hadn’t already put thought and planning into the idea of homeschooling so Pippin could leave weeks before public schools ended here, this trip wouldn’t have happened for us. Even if we had already grown reliant on some supplementary income — from freelancing or pyramid schemes or whatever — this trip would have been a lot hairier to pull off.
To my everlasting disappointment, full-time homemaking doesn’t come with a lot of external feedback. (Which is maybe just as well, because my floor hygiene is never going to get good marks.) But this trip, this magical little season in our family’s life, will stand as validation of many of our decisions. By continuing, for now, as a home educator and homemaker, I can contribute to the family work of modeling family life for college students. As my children use the undergrads as mobile jungle gyms, as I field frankly curious questions from students just beginning to think about family planning or mom life. As I embrace the flexibility that comes with ceding career, at least for now.