Owning All of My Work
After reading an opinion piece in The New York Times debunking “maternal instinct” as a myth to keep women in their place, I considered how this thinking impacted my life. I worked as a high school English teacher before having my first child at age 26. At that point, I happily retired to raise that child and two others as a stay-at-home mom for eleven years, only returning to a very part-time job as a preschool teacher when my youngest started kindergarten. After a few years teaching preschool, I enrolled in graduate school to earn a Master’s degree in early childhood education. During those years, I worked at many volunteer jobs in my children’s schools, from starting a book store to serving as PTA President. Of course, none of this was paid work and therefore wasn’t especially valued by others.
By the time I had five grandchildren, three of whom had serious problems, my “grand-maternal instincts” had kicked in. The twins, who were my first, had significant delays that required many visits to therapists. Because they lived in town, I helped with taking them to these appointments so my daughter could also work part time. My work days were often interrupted by emergencies and I also babysit their younger sister, born in 2006, after work. My administrative colleagues were amazingly supportive, but my body was not.
In August, 2006, hobbled with severe back pain and sciatica, I had surgery to fuse two joints. Six weeks later and not really recovered, I went to Indiana to help my youngest daughter with the birth of her first child. What I had been promised by the surgeon would be no problem was marred by pain so severe I could barely drive. My tears of joy were mingled with hidden tears from physical suffering. By the time her second child was born in 2009, we learned that her first had cystic fibrosis. That was the straw that broke this camel’s back. In 2010, when I stepped down as Executive Director of Cherry Preschool to mentor the new director and serve as “communications coordinator” (responsible for all written material), I was struggling with this new phase of life. In 2013, I retired completely.
I had repressed much of this journey until a recent crisis in which the Chicago Tribune shut down its blogging platform, ChicagoNow, without giving its writers time to retrieve their work. I was one of those writers from 2013, when I officially retired, until 2020. The blogging site had been active since around 2009 and had published more than 100,000 posts. I had contributed over 385 of those. None of the writers were paid, so the Tribune did not particularly value our work. With no official warning and no apology, the site was abruptly closed. Many writers did not have enough time to save their writing, and to do so required countless hours and extraordinary patience, as there was no access to the back end of the Word Press platform. I literally scrambled to copy every one of my posts and paste them into Word documents. In the process, I stumbled across the things I had written about how becoming a grandparent was one of the greatest joys of my life, but also the catalyst for my journey to retirement. Similar to my journey into parenthood, this life change propelled me out of the paid work force and back into the arms of unpaid, and thus undervalued, work as a blogger.
As I copied and pasted blog posts to Word and then to my website, I thought about how much work I had done since retiring that was mine and mine alone. Aside from Alternet, none of the places I posted my writing paid me. When I finished cleaning up the ChicagoNow mess, I moved on to Huffington Post, Midcentury Modern, Medium, and MyRetrospect to reclaim what was mine. After months of tedious work, I now have a basic website and, if my patience and endurance allow, I plan to find a home for my future writing there.
As with motherhood, being a grandmother, and retirement, there have been parts of in my life when I worked very hard but received no financial compensation. Perhaps reaching the ripe old age of 77, I finally recognize that the unpaid work I have done during chunks of my life matters. I have learned to value my writing and plan to preserve it on my website because it is time to own all of my work.