There’s something in the air today. The week that kids go back to school is a sort of miracle for parents, a resurgence of order, of routine, and a swell of emotion. Classes are confirmed, the fretting of summer now over, friends are put into their various boxes, teachers established, and the new reel begins. Exhale.
The morning of September 7th, 2007 I had been a teacher for three years. With a two year old at home and being almost twenty weeks pregnant, my husband and I decided that I would stay home. My dad used to say, “You’ll have your whole life to work,” but putting my career on hold at 28 felt more like hitting a pause button. I was going a mile a minute. I had terrific zest for the profession, having trained with both literature and education degrees, and was desperate to try out all my new acts.
I failed at the concept of slowing down. That fall, I enrolled in courses to teach English as a Second Language, I tutored refugees at the library, I led a troupe of Girl Guides, and I answered the phone at the Red Cross.
And I waited for a baby.
Now that the time has stretched, I realize that my twenties were perpetrated by a great rush to do everything —intensely—at once. I wanted to be a mother and have the perfect family, to build a satisfying career, to lay the guide posts of a loving marriage, to create a home that was comfortable and secure. Even more, I wanted to give back to my community.
I longed for a certain completion, something that was final, with little view of five years down the road, let alone ten or twenty. If my twenties were characterized by speeding up, my thirties have been about slowing down. With less interest in the dictation of culture, the strive is now towards longer-term goals, which is a challenging but rewarding view.
The clarity has come not in droves, but in small, impactful events. The baby we waited for never arrived. Her death left us limbed, lost in the jungle of stillbirth. But we moved on, not without a micro crisis or two, to wider camera angles. Travel helped and words did too.
My return to teaching was unconventional, teaching creative writing to international students, who taught me about the intersection of culture and connection. The school year returned for five years, the whiff of first day excitement revitalizing me with each new semester’s class.
Each year I breathed more deeply, until one fall evening we had the wonderful blessing of welcoming a baby boy, not one, not three, but seven years after we welcomed his big sister. This deconstruction of the perfect family’s design has been in part, my biggest education. My maternity leave with my son would bring with it the time for me complete a degree in Creative Nonfiction, and to publish my first few essays. This new focus on publication would lead me towards a manuscript, towards founding my own online literary magazine, and towards being a Mentor with the Afghan Women’s Writing Project.
I still love the school year, but my concept of work has changed. Toting three children now, the act is more of a juggle. But the work is personal, is intentional, and is gratifying in many ways. I still can’t help looking at all the postings for sessional instructors in the English departments in my own hometown, but there is still much life for that. Children are five, then they’re ten, soon they will be fifteen, and then twenty.
Dad has a new adage for me these days, his silver hair curled and his boyish grin showing all his teeth, and it’s “there’s plenty of room at the top.”
Mo Duffy Cobb is the author of Unpacked: from PEI to Palawan. Her essays have been published in The Rumpus, Literary Mama, Damselfly Press and more. She is the founder and Editor of Cargo Literary, an online magazine that publishes transformational travel experiences. She lives in Prince Edward Island, Canada. https://moduffycobb.com/ Twitter @MoDuffyCobb, and on Facebook Author Mo Duffy Cobb.
Mo Duffy Cobb would love people to support the Afghan Women's Writing Project, where she worked as a writing mentor. Visit awwproject.org.