By Elizabeth Wroten
My Gap Year(s)
On 08, May 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
This post is part of Show Me the Awesome: 30 Days of Self-Promotion, an initiative started by Kelly at Stacked, Liz at A Chair, a Fireplace and a Teacozy, and Sophie at SophieBiblio. Follow along on their blogs and on Twitter with the hashtag #30awesome. The banner is by John LeMasney at Lemasney.com.
If you’ve read my About Me page (or keep reading this sentence) you’ll know, among other things, that about two years ago I had a baby and quit my job. What you won’t know is how terrifying that prospect was and how difficult the decision was to make. I worried that no one would ever look past that gap in my work history or worse yet, would write off motherhood as a busy, but ultimately easy, job requiring no skill. Even in a profession dominated by women it can be hard for mothers to justify putting their family first. But what I wish I had known then, is how much better a librarian I am for having made that choice and actually staying home.
Now, I’ve never been the kind of woman who believed she could have everything. In fact, I’m not sure I know what that means to me and if I would even want it. But two years ago I had a job I loved in a profession I loved. Sure, it didn’t pay well, but that was fine for starting out.
I also had a husband I loved and wanted to start a family. When we sat down and actually looked at the financial reality of having a baby we realized my job wouldn’t cover quality daycare, not to mention all the additional costs that came with a baby. And deep down I knew it would take a lot more than a financial wash for me to go back to work immediately. I have to say in her infinite wisdom, when I told my boss I wasn’t coming back, she already knew what choice I would make, but thought I would have to see the baby’s face before making it. At least I didn’t have to feel guilty leaving.
I know it sounds terribly trite to say being a mother made me a better sort of person, but I can actually agree with the list of ways everyone says being a parent changes them for the better. I’m more patient with everyone. I’m more empathetic, although I think that’s mostly the hormones talking. I’ve learned to embrace unpredictability and imperfection because you can never be sure your kid won’t melt down in the grocery store or that you’ll handle it well when it happens. I’m great at managing time and often wonder what I did with myself before having a baby. I appreciate community more and want to be a part of it for my daughter’s sake. Considering librarians are essentially customer service professionals, all those characteristics are positive, but not all the ways I became a better librarian were so obvious (or cliched).
One of my first worries when I was home was that I would show up to an interview and sound hopelessly out of touch and outdated. I wasn’t especially connected with the library world and needed a way to stay involved without having a job. So, I started up a Twitter account (@AtomicBeeRanch) and began following other librarians, professional associations, and book sources. I set up a Google Reader account and got my mom to babysit one day a week so I could spend some quality time reading the various library blogs and the professional publications I began subscribing to. I also set up this blog (with a lot of help from my husband, thanks Tom!) to have a place I could leave a record of what I was doing. I joined a couple professional organizations and began attending their conferences (when our budget allows). I take professional development classes through ALA and catch as many free webinars as I can. Now I have a collaborative network I can rely on even once I’m back in the workforce.
Part and parcel with engaging in the library community, I’ve also become a lot more aware of the wider world of librarianship and the many ideas and opinions that are out there. I worked full time through library school and jumped into a library job where there was only one other person working with me. I was too inexperienced and there wasn’t time to worry about the big picture or much pressure to once I was working in a library. Which isn’t to say the future of libraries or the next big technological advance is something all librarians need an opinion on, but I think it’s important to have a philosophical foundation to work from, to guide you and I didn’t really have that before.
I worried, at one point, that being home might make it more difficult for me to find my way in my career, but instead it crystallized it. A few months into motherhood I was surprised to find I was missing the students. I also really missed the energy and excitement they brought to school. I had never felt tied to one particular type of library before, but leaving the kids behind made me realize I want to work with them again. And after all that fretting over staying home, I also decided that I don’t want to work for a company or library that would look at my gap years as a black spot. I know that my family will always come first and an institution that can’t respect that is one I can’t see fitting into. If at all possible, I also want a flexible, part-time schedule so I can still be home, even if it’s just a few hours after school.
I think most importantly though, I know now I made the right decision. I know how lucky I am to have had the ability to make a choice between work and staying home and I am grateful every single day that I don’t have to miss a minute of my daughter growing up; even the not so great minutes. I can see her flourishing right before my eyes and I will never have to ask myself if I shouldn’t have put my career first or if the financial sacrifice would have been worth it. I’ll never feel guilty that I didn’t give my daughter enough time and equally importantly I’ll never have to worry that I didn’t give my library enough time. Which means I’ll never have to resent the profession I love for taking that from me.
In the end, realizing all this doesn’t necessarily make me worry less about rejoining the workforce, but it does make me feel confident in my decision to leave it for a time. Sure it’s a cliche to say that being a mother has made me a better librarian, but it doesn’t make it any less true.