Friday, September 01, 2006

Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes

This morning started at 7:00 when the alarm went off. We lay there dozing through the national news on CBC, me with my head on Mr. K's chest and my leg across his legs, Martha curled up in the small of my back. Charlotte, as always, was at the foot of the bed.

I got up at about 7:40 and got into the shower. After I was clean and dressed, I came downstairs and had some breakfast: a scrambled egg, slices of cheese, and a pile of alfalfa sprouts on a wholegrain English muffin. Mr. K has become very efficient at making my little breakfast sandwiches. I put on a bit of makeup (concealer under my eyes, some definition for my eyebrows), poked around on the Web for a bit, and finally got out of the house just after 8:45.

The Pigeon Man was out this morning, lying on a small mound of grass in the little parkette he frequents, shaking out a bag of bread to feed the masses of pigeons and sparrows that were clustered around and on top of him. He always looks terribly unhealthy, just inches from death with his sunken cheeks and hollow eyes, but he's there almost every day, pulling on his giant foul-smelling stogie and letting the birds surround him.

As I walked north I didn't see the tall, nervous, thin woman who always seems to be in a rush to get to work. Nor did I see the squarish red-haired guy with the chinstrap beard.

The streetcar was relatively empty and I got a seat with no trouble. I'd forgotten the new September Metropass, but the very kind driver let me on anyway and even gave me a transfer so I could get on the subway. The chimes of the cathedral announced nine o'clock as we went past, letting me know I was on time.

I got onto the subway and rode to work. Took the stairs out of the subway station, and the two flights after I got into the building. Went into the tiny little teachers' room, chatted a bit with another teacher, gathered the books I needed, and went off to class, where I had one (1) student.

This routine, with minor variations (usually more students), has been my weekday morning for months now. Today was its last hoorah. I taught for a couple of hours, and then cleaned my stuff out of the fridge, said my farewells to my boss and his wife (they're taking me out for lunch next week), and left.

This is the seventh job I've left since I finished university. It doesn't get easier to walk away. This is the first time, though, that I've had someone kicking me from the inside to remind me why I'm going.

I've been thinking a lot about the work I do and about how it's compensated: even though there are more letters after my name than after Mr. K's, I make a fraction of what he does, and my jobs are far less stable. I discovered a week or two ago that I am most likely not eligible for any sort of maternity leave because I've been officially self-employed for the last eight months (read: working for a place that's too small to afford a payroll system).

The work I'm drawn to -- teaching English as a second language within the realm of social service -- is traditionally underpaid. There seems to be an assumption that because it's good, meaningful work, often in the nonprofit sector, those who do it shouldn't expect more pay. Aren't you committed to the cause? How dare you want more money? Shouldn't you be willing to make sacrifices for the greater good? (This hasn't been the case at all at the job I just finished, but then that job wasn't at a nonprofit.)

I find myself wondering about the degree to which the inequity of compensation between jobs I can get and the job that Mr. K has is linked with gender: when I go to professional conferences, I can't help but notice that 90% of my colleagues are female. Even the ESL jobs that aren't connected to social service are usually underpaid and unstable. (At one conference, the [male] keynote speaker noted that ESL teaching is "the armpit of academia." ESL programs in schools are often the first ones to be cut when budgets get tight.)

And the instability of my pink-collar job means that I don't get benefits when I have to take time off to do the unpaid work that women have been doing for millennia. This isn't what I had in mind when I finished my degree at a feminist women's college.

I'm feeling deeply dissatisfied by the lack of structural support available for women who find themselves in what are traditionally "women's jobs" and need to leave for a while to bring new people into the world. People keep telling me I'm lucky to be able make choices, but even if I had a job that guaranteed me a maternity leave, it just wouldn't make any financial sense at all for me to keep working and Mr. K to drop to only 55% of his salary so that he could take time off. For economic reasons, I have to make exactly the same decision that a working woman did 40 years ago.

So that's what's been kicking around in my head for the past couple of weeks. Kicking around in my belly is a baby, whose imminent arrival is freaking me out no end. Baby baby baby.

My parents are here, and they and Mr. K and I spent the afternoon poking around baby shops. We have bought almost nothing even though I'm due in less than five weeks. Right now the baby's possessions add up to this:
  • a dark blue Wellesley onesie
  • twelve small washcloths
  • three receiving blankets (two of which were gifts from friends)
  • a pair of soft-soled shoes (also a gift from friends)
  • one pair of socks (gift from my parents)
  • one bib (gift from my parents)
  • a travel playpen (a gift from Pina and Ian, given when they visited and their then-13-month-old needed a place to sleep)
  • a sling (also from Pina and Ian)
So far no diapers (we're planning to use cloth), no co-sleeper or crib, no big pile of onesies, no diaper cream, no nipple cream, no "so you've gone and had a baby" books, no changing table, no bedding, no curtains, no car seat, no stroller. The nursery looks like a storage room: it is currently full of crap purged from my study (soon to be our study, but currently in use as a guest room for my parents) and stuff that Mr. K needs to deal with. We haven't even bought paint yet.

I am simultaneously equanimous and overwhelmed.


Anonymous said...

That reminds me. Send us your snail-mail address?

Anonymous said...

Er...ok, I've got a headache and can't use "a href" properly. But you know where to find me.
-- Esquiver.

Anonymous said...

By the by, you can use a drawer for a cradle in the short term.