A friend of mine declared that she is quitting her high-profile job. “I want to take care of my kids. I have already missed too many of their childhood milestones and I don’t want to miss anymore”, she said thoughtfully. “You are doing the right thing”, said another friend, “children need their mums to be around!”, she declared. I nodded in agreement with a smile on my face, but deep down, I could feel my heart pounding like a raging clock.
Back home, at the dinner table, somehow, the conversation steered towards experiences at work. My husband spoke about a couple of new guys who had joined work, my mother-in-law immediately began to talk about her early days as a teacher. She told us the story of her altercation with the cleaning lady who offered her a cup of coffee in a broken cup, yet again. While she recalled her younger self, she was thrilled and mesmerised by her own deeds. My father-in-law, who was listening till then, spoke about his boss. I watched my son, Sid, listen in rapturous attention, taking in the ways of the adult life. I wondered what Sid was thinking, but again, I was drawn to the conversation as my father-in-law quipped, “It was so much fun those days when I was working”, and he began another story. I tried hard to focus but I was drawn to my thoughts.
I began to clear the dishes. Despite the clutter and the noise of the dishes and the ongoing conversation, I was deep in thought. Back in the days, when I was a newly-married bride, I worked at an institute. I taught English to a bunch of children preparing for competitive exams. The job was not easy. I had to prepare myself thoroughly for nearly four hours to teach for an hour. Internet was what the software engineers enjoyed, so, I was left with a dictionary that had a torn front cover and a bunch of old English grammar books that my school had given me for being a good student. It was hard work, but I was determined to do well.
The first couple of days as a teacher was not easy. Some children tried to intimidate and a couple of clever ones asked tricky questions, hoping to put me in a spot. I struggled but I slowly built my confidence. I was thrilled to have an identity other than that of being somebody’s wife. “I am an English teacher”, I could declare with pride.
Then, the inevitable happened. I had to let go my job after just one year! I decided to follow my husband. I saw a large part of the world because, I chose to walk the path my husband took. I took long walks, began to enjoy my own company, embraced new cultures and explored new places. Despite everything, when someone asked if I had a job, it hurt deeply to say “No.”
“Oh! You are so lucky”, my husband and his side of the family always pointed out and although, it never felt right to agree, it seemed logical to agree with him.
Today, years later, I wonder why no one appreciated me for giving up my job. I may have seen half the world, but I had to give up something that was so important to me. I could never go back to my job and my career as an English teacher ended without any peaks. All I am left with today is some luck that helped me see the world and no stories to share on the dinner table and no work-friends.
As I watch my son laugh at a joke, I think about my friend who has just given up her job. Nobody knows whether she is right or wrong except her. Motherhood does not have to mean — giving up careers. Women all over have so many social and economic pressures that, their hearts have to be compartmentalised — each part loving one aspect of life unconditionally. This, I think, is special to women alone. It takes, courage, pain, love to make those tough choices in life. Perhaps there will come a day, when women will no longer have to make those choices. Wishful thinking? Why not?
Sudha Subramanian is an author and freelance writer based in Dubai.