The Incalculable Worth of Motherhood

ONCE I studied virus and dreamed of discovering a cure for cancer. Now I examine ladybugs and listen to crickets. Once I traded soybeans at the Chicago Board of Trade and planned my first million. Now I clip coupons and count my wealth in smiles. My profession is low in prestige and economically infeasible. Institutions of higher learning do not even offer a course of study in it.

In many families my duties are performed by nannies and cleaning ladies. After all, the woman of the '80s is supposed to ``have it all.'' Thus my decision to leave work and become a full-time parent was considered deviant behavior by colleagues and friends.

Despite this lack of support, I confidently softened my trader's rasp to a croon. Calculator and commodities price charts were exchanged for rattles and baby care manuals. I even interviewed seasoned parents on the relative merits of cloth versus disposable diapers. If child-rearing problems arose, it wouldn't be due to lack of information. Nonetheless, there were aspects of motherhood the experts never mentioned, and for which no amount of studying could have prepared me.

Motherhood requires a surrender of independence. This is unnatural after spending so many years seeking it. No longer does life occur in an orderly fashion, but neither is spontaneity possible. The infant is in control because he can neither wait, nor be hurried.

I also am completely dependent on my husband. I am dependent financially, as I never was while employed. I am bound emotionally, because it is impossible for an infant to satisfy all of my adult needs. And, in a time when the career/mother/superwoman track is hailed, I need my husband to reaffirm parental decisions.

Motherhood forced me to redefine my self-concept. As a commodities broker I found self-worth in outsmarting the market, the black ink on the bottom line, and the respect of colleagues. But these measures of success are not applicable when one spends the day changing diapers and reading ``A Tale of Peter Rabbit'' to a toddler. There are no raises or promotions for parenting well-done.

Learning to value my humanity demanded that I reconcile giving up a college education and an exciting job with taking care of my family. A wise man once said, ``Happiness is never caused by circumstances alone.'' When I believe staying home is a sacrifice, I become resentful. But when I believe staying at home is an opportunity, where the only constraints to the day are my own creativity and energy, then home life becomes fertile with possibility.

I am not, then, giving up my education. I am merely recycling it. Every fact and concept I have learned is sorted and presented in a modified version to my son. He pours water from cup to cup in the bath as I measured chemicals in chemistry lab. He listens wide-eyed when I tell him Bible stories, just as I reflect upon God's word.

My son is teaching me to live truthfully because toddlers don't mask feelings. Each day is charged with rage, pride, and the wonderful whooping ecstasy of a two-year-old. I am thankful for the richness of each minute because the passage of time in my rapidly growing son is all too apparent.

Those who choose to stay home are often branded as unintelligent, or accused of retreating from the working world, because society has not yet learned to value the caretakers of its young. Those who continue working are often burdened by guilt and impossible schedules. Our mothers may have had fewer opportunities, but at least society had reasonable expectations of them. Instead, this generation searches for the energy, time, and day care arrangement to ``have it all.'' Maybe one day women will recognize that having it all doesn't necessarily mean having it all at once. For me, it means having a choice.

The soybean market advances and retreats without me. New discoveries are made in microbiology without my contribution. Shortly after the birth of my son I felt the need to convince my former colleagues that motherhood is worthwhile, that I haven't wasted my education. Now I have no need. During the last two years I have been humbled by a baby. I have been humbled by all I have learned, and all that I have yet to learn. My education continues.

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