My transition to full-time teaching has been accompanied by no small amount of “mama-guilt” (more on that later), even though it has also allowed me to rediscover the tremendous joy that so much of my work adds to my life: intellectually stimulating conversations with faculty and students; a class sparking to life while discussing a literary text; opportunities to encourage a struggling student to keep reading (and re-reading); and office visits that equip another student to take a few more steps towards mastering the task of articulating his or her thoughts in writing. The common thread connecting these experiences is learning. And investing my time and skills here has renewed my love for it. In fact, I sometimes have the sense that I’m “getting away” with something just because I’m so grateful to “have” to learn so many new things, and to share that knowledge with others here. But it has taken me a few years to give myself permission to embrace my identity as a wife and mother who just might be called and equipped to teach full-time.
One experience in particular was a turning point. It occurred during my time at the NEH Workshop on the American Lyceum. While watching a dramatic reenactment of Abby Kelley Foster’s abolitionist speeches, I learned about her decision to leave her daughter in her husband’s care on occasion so she could fully give her time, energy, and abilities to the abolitionist cause. Her choice was difficult, dangerous, and in defiance of current attitudes regarding the woman’s rightful place; however, Ms. Foster’s willingness to make that choice resulted in a change whose impact is beyond description. To learn that she considered her abolitionist activism a spiritual calling was even more compelling. By introducing me to women who dared to think of themselves not only as wives and/or mothers but also as individuals who could positively impact their community, this conference radically changed how I felt about my own decision to teach full-time. Although I would have never expected it, attending this conference alleviated much of the “mama-guilt” that plagued me during my first year of full-time teaching. This has freed me to enjoy my work more fully, which is no small gift.