Thursday, July 31, 2014

the long way back

From 15 weeks to 25 weeks – something tells me I will not be able to wear this top when I’m 35 weeks… without showing some skin that is!

This pregnancy thing, comrades, is really something. With fifteen weeks left to go – our first is scheduled to be a middle-of-November baby but I’m open to having our meet-and-greet both in late October and early December – I have come to many realizations about my current situation and made several decisions about our future life. Approximately a week ago I found out that “maternity leave” is not only considered bad word in American English, but it is also viewed as an unheard of privilege by my academic institution. Maybe I was naïve, but I had somehow always imagined that when the time came for me to start a family, I would work for a supportive employer. Now that time is here and there’s no support to be found. And then it suddenly hit me: I don’t have to be here. I don’t have to take this. This doesn’t have to be my job or my life or even my reality. Huh. That was a big – huge – revelation for me, even though I understand if other people come to see it as a rather obvious conclusion. When I decided that I would take four months of maternity leave [the maximum that I’m entitled to] from November to March, I was immediately scared of what was going to happen next; I have always know that my department is not a nice or friendly place to work in and that threats, both personal and professional, has been handed left and right to those who’ve made smaller mistakes than the “mistake” I’m about to make. I told my mother that I was scared I’d be bullied and ostracized if I went through with my right as a new mother according to our union contract, to which she said something very smart and very true: “Knowing how this department has maltreated you in the past, is there even any way they can treat you worse?” The answer to that question is no. The only way they could treat me worse is if they’d throw eggs at my person or my house, or threaten my unborn child, but lucky for me I’m not the same as I was before and from now on I’m not going to take any shit from anyone. I used to think my mom was a badass for thinking and acting like that, but now that I’ve seen myself develop into a strikingly similar badass I’m assuming that’s the kind of raw attitude that comes with a mother’s territory. I’ve already been marked as a “bad girl” [to use conventional phraseology, not strict terminology] and treated accordingly for years, well, four years to be exact, and before the fifth year begins I’m ready to draw a firm line. I’m ready to say that enough is enough and this time I mean it. I wish I could use a cliché like it’s been great but I’m out. The truth is that I can’t even say that; what I might say it’s been awful and I’m done.

If anybody asks that is what I will tell them again and again: I’m done.

Of course this decision – no matter how rough and cool I attempt to sound about it – is fraught with all kinds of anxieties and tensions. Am I a failure because I left one of the top ten universities in the world without finishing? Maybe I will finish. Maybe I won’t. Is that anybody’s definition of an “epic fail”? I was working on a proposal for my dissertation a couple of weeks during this summer, right up until the faithful day when I decided to start planning my maternity leave and the shit literally hit the fan. Is it really my fault that I don’t feel motivated to keep working on it at the moment? For other, unrelated reasons [or are they?] I don’t feel like a dissertation on Shalamov is what I should be writing right now. Don’t get me wrong – I still love Shalamov. But I’m facing another challenge right now, and that challenge is to find a place where I can feel joy and purpose and satisfaction again. For several years I thought that I was stuck at Berkeley because other people told me to “follow through,” to remain “ambitious,” to not give up on such a “great opportunity.” I was told that the prestige of a Berkeley PhD diploma would make it all “worth it.” Well, other people may tell you lots of things out of the kindness of their hearts – and the road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions – but nobody else can live your life for you or make your decisions for you. At the end of every day you have to make your own decisions and live with the consequences on your own. When I began to realize that I did not have to be here, that nobody was forcing me to stay in a program and a department which had stolen my joy and made me an unhappy, paranoid person, I also began to understand that I would not be considered any less of a person if I became the girl who left UC Berkeley. My worth as a person is not tied to my academic degree; I used to think that my worth as a scholar was tied to the prestige of my university but in reality those are two wholly unrelated things. It was all such a sudden realization but I know now that I won’t have spent ten years of my life “in vain” if I decide not to become a professor of Russian literature. What would I consider a loss, a true and real loss? If I were to let a job, a place, a set of people steal my joy while I sit back and let them. When I first came to this department I thought it strange that so many of my colleagues often looked like they were on the verge of tears; over the years I transformed into one of them. And for a few years I accepted this nervous, close-to-mental-breakdown state of mind as the new normal. But this is not my story – and this is certainly not the way I view the world. Some might convince me to “stick it out” because this is academia or because this is the way of the world, but I’ve been a student and a teacher at other universities in other countries and I can tell you there is definitely nothing “normal” about what’s going on in my current place of work. The day you start to accept other people’s stories as your own is the day you know it is time to get out.

Even though I made this decision, it doesn’t mean that I’m going to get on a plane tomorrow and head for another adventure straight away. If I expect my department to honor my union contract, then it wouldn’t make much sense if I were to not honor my contract with them, right? So I will remain here for my fifth year and teach the classes I promised to teach. I’ll give birth to my son in Berkeley and he will be an American citizen before he becomes a citizen of Sweden. But I am certain that this is my last year in California – maybe it will also be my last year as a Slavicist. After the end of the upcoming academic year we’re moving to Sweden. For me it means a home coming of sorts; for my husband it means living in an unknown country and facing new challenges and opportunities. For my son it will mean having his mother at home for the first year of his life. The last is our main motivation. Probably it is something Americans will never understand. But I’m not American and I don’t have to follow the rules of this country. I have been blessed with the best native country in the world, and that’s where I want to raise my family. I’m thinking about maybe applying to a doctorate program in Sweden, and maybe finishing my dissertation on Shalamov there eventually. I’m also thinking about doing something else with my professional life; what I would like to find now is a place which is normal and where I can find joy again. Perhaps it sounds a little crazy and weird and different to be twenty-nine years old and not know what do to or where to live or who to become?

I think I’d prefer it to not only sound but also be crazy and weird and different. For real, comrades.

2 comments:

Tantbastant said...

Dear darling daughter!
To realize that you know nothing is a great knowledge! To finally experience that nothing is set in stone must be exhilarating!To see open spaces before you and KNOW that you are the captain of your own ship is what makes us self sufficient and in turn that will make us come into or own person. Most of the time as a result of bad experiences... so, to paraphrase the gladiators welcome: For those about to go their own way - I SALUTE YOU! (Fistpump!) Lots of love Mother

Sara said...

I completely understand you wanting to be home with your child the first year. That year is short and you never get it back. America is a great place, I miss it a lot but not providing maternity leave is awful. I hope if I ever have a second child I can find a way to stay home the first year, though this will probably mean quitting my job. Best of luck to you!