Monday, February 16, 2009

Burning Bras and Sterilizing Bottles

On Friday afternoon I was talking to my group director (my boss’ boss) and she mentioned to me that she wanted to start getting me ready to be promoted. Obviously, I should be happy, right? I do a good job and am glad other people recognize it. But instead of making me happy, this news has left me conflicted.

You see, Victor and I have a plan. The plan is as follows: a) Victor gets a new job (he is currently temporary research faculty and his position is renewed yearly), b) we move and buy a house, and c) I get pregnant and become a stay-at-home mom. I like this plan, I really do, and I’m going to stick with it if at all possible. I truly want to stay at home with my children so I can take great care of them and of my husband. I dream about being able to fix Victor’s lunch and write love notes on his napkin, about taking my kids to play dates and soccer games, and about having time to do domestic things like gardening and canning my own tomato sauce.

But, every once in a while a tiny nagging voice says that my dreams coming true might mean living with regret. I studied hard in college, got good grades, and went to one of the top graduate schools in the country for biological research. I have done work at my company that most people said would be impossible. I love science and doing experiments and I’m good at it. Sometimes I get scared that I will miss it, but I think my reaction is more related to the external than the internal.

The feminists of the twentieth century fought for equal rights. They wanted women to be able to get good educations and to be successful professionally. Some women I’ve met along my educational and professional journey tell me that leaving science would be a waste of talent and that being a full time mom will not fulfill me. I think what they are forgetting is that women have fought for a choice, not for a mandate. I chose to get a good education and job and I can also choose to leave that job. I will not be wasting my talent, I’ll just be redirecting it to another pursuit.

I do not judge women who choose to work rather than stay home with their kids, but I do not think I could be happy with my performance as a mother if worked outside the home. If I have a daughter I will teach her that she should do what she is passionate about at all stages of her life. Study the things that interest her, get involved the activities she enjoys, and do something that makes her excited to get out of bed in the morning. Right now that for me is science, but soon (I hope) it will be the screaming baby in the next room. For now I do my best at my job, but then I will be doing my best at raising my kids to be kind, thoughtful, smart, driven people. And you can bet that my kid will beat your kid’s ass in the school science fair.

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