It was the beginning of a semester. I was almost in my second year of teaching at the university and I remember telling my colleague that I was “really doing well.” I was finally able to prepare sufficiently for my classes, change up my reading lists and entertain creative projects. I had just sailed into new terrain with my daughter: preschool. This wasn’t like having the licensed-in-your-home kind of sitter that could be sick or sleeping on the couch when we walk in. Thankfully, that only happened once but it was enough to make me feel beyond guilty as I still rolled off to work to teach my four in a row classes. But that time had passed and I was gleefully sailing into new territory where I could count on structured play and outside time that I didn’t have to be a part of. It was great.
And then, within the span of five and a half years I had two more children.
And then I became a slave — to my thoughts on childcare and babysitters. Plenty of my private moments were spent thinking about how I could fancy up Craigslist postings to land the dream babysitter who would always have a schedule that would be compatible with my teaching one. I even dared to dream about her being able to stay with us throughout the summer so I could get a head start on future semesters. If I only had one person who I could count on then, I thought, I could actually use allotted time at the office for work. Pure work. I relished this thought as my office hours, especially prior to registration, were often spent juggling grading and prepping with interviewing sitters so that I could keep my job.
It was true that I had made choices to live this way, so completely dependent on the schedule of one other or perhaps even another after that. Some semesters I managed to piece together care with two to three sitters. There are some semesters that stand out and haunt me because I lived in fear of early morning phone calls from my sitter who was stuck in Boston or sick and well, as she said sorrily, “just unable to commit.” I could have sent the girls to a center and be free from the worry of finding someone who could come to my home. I tried to convince myself that financially it was a better bargain to send the baby (whether baby two or baby three) to a center because I could get more bang for my buck. For what I paid my babysitter for 20 hours or so, I could get full-time care at a really great place. I invited myself to dream again about that “really doing well” phase. But no matter how I tried that dream of “then” didn’t match my feelings of “now.”
Could, I thought, my having small children be working against me? Might it really come down to whether or not I used all of my fifty minutes of office hours on a given day crazily trying to resurrect some creative energy to write something versus using thirty two of those same minutes for interviews for sitters? I even worried about people seeing my children. I didn’t want to give anyone any leverage to state that I was somehow not as productive because my major priority was my family. So when I considered somehow camouflaging them so they wouldn’t really be seen on those rare occasions when I entered the department building with them because the babysitter fell through, I knew it had gone too far.
I was making myself pay for choices that I wanted to make. I was forcing myself to live in a space of seven years ago when I had only one-almost-elementary school age child. And how could that be when my circumstances are three hundred and sixty degrees worth of different? It couldn’t.
I am trying to free myself over and over again from worrying too much about others’ perceptions of me. Even as I write this I know how complicated it sounds because as an academic there are certain things required of me to keep my job. But I have to believe that all of the time I spend thinking of childcare and dreaming of my superhero – fantastic sitter-girl—I am making valuable, worthy decisions that are shaped by my own vision of mothering.
This, I guess, is me “really doing well.”
Brandon LA Hutchinson is an Associate Professor of English at Southern Connecticut State University where she teaches full time. She is the mother of three wonderful daughters and partner to a man for over sixteen years whom she started dating prior to her eighteenth birthday. She is attempting to live by Janie Starks’ philosophy from Their Eyes Were Watching God, “If they wants to see and know, why they don’t come kiss and be kissed?”