I have spent the last month in limbo. After some digging around, a lot of discussion, calculating, reaching out, phoning around, brainstorming, option hunting and reconsidering, I am looking to go back to my office job in the city. What????, you say. I heard that. I can hear your surprise from here. Why would someone give up all that is going on around here for a commute to an office, for a job in the government?
Almost two years ago I made the massive shift from my professional work as a science policy/analyst/government/biologist/advisor person to a stay-at-farm mother, farmer and homemaker. It was an awesome couple of years. The transition was a complete change from my normal routine – and in all good ways a much needed change to our family’s system. A lot of problems were solved, new challenges arose (as they always do), I became the envy of many and a terrible example for many more.
If you should happen to see inside a cocoon as a caterpillar makes its shift into a butterfly, you do not find a specimen that looks part caterpillar and part butterfly. Instead you find a mass of gooey cells waiting for and following instructions into the next transition. Transition is like that. The space between landmarks is formless. And for this excitement-junkie, control-freak that is both exhilarating and as scary as all get out!
Two years ago I turned from being a chair-bound, neatly dressed, thinking, analysing human to outdoor farm girl with dirty fingernails and a slight eau-du-manure about me. I gained much more involvement in the day-to-day operations of our farm as well as a vast ability to be more hands-on in my children’s daily lives and the meals that we ate. The change was as extreme as turning a fuzzy land crawler into a free-flying creature.
The past month I have been floating in the shell of transition. Formless. I did not know where my aspirations were going to land or what they would look like. I knew that the universe had opened a door for me and change was rushing in. I did not yet know what it was going to look like. I leaned heavily to all sides, waiting for my instructions. Should I write a book? Should I play more music? Should I do something less artistic, more cerebral and more suited to my obsession with research, organizing and playing with data and equations?
My answer came a week or so ago. I couldn’t share until things firmed up a bit more. It seems that day has come.
So this is the part where I climb back into the cocoon, remove my wings and remember what it is like to crawl again. Most people have an idea of what working for the government is about. I have worked for multiple departments, at different levels of government, in various parts of the country, doing a huge variety of jobs and I can tell you that every experience has been vastly different from the last. There are some consistencies but the differences far outweigh the stereotypes. Kudos to those who can sum up the government so easily. After being there first hand for almost 15 years I can’t sum it up quite that quickly.
I think we all need to experience life on the ground. We need to remind ourselves of where we fit into the biological functions on earth. To know what it is to grow and raise and interact with living things. I have spent the past two years (for the most part of nine years really), doing that in spades. I wouldn’t change it for the world. I came, I dug in, I burned out, I rose again, celebrated, and then did it all over again. I didn’t just buy the t-shirt. I made it from scratch, practically growing the cotton and weaving the fabric.
Early this year I was re-introduced to the part of me that desperately needs to embrace order, structure and predictability. It is the same girl who lined up her figurines in alphabetical order as a child. The one who tracks her life in spreadsheets. The one who builds systems and explanations for abstract concepts. She has been dormant for some time now. And she came to me recently with a vengeance.
I am grateful to say that I am not returning to my old work for money or for reasons related to status or societal expectation of women today. Everything I have written in this blog for the past year has been an attempt to learn the worth of my own salt as a woman. I struggled with the alternative way that I was providing monetary value to my household. I looked for justification in a new kind of feminism – a women’s right to choose what she does with her days, and a women’s right to choose NOT to work out of the home. Along the way I considered going back to my ‘job’ for all of the wrong reasons (to escape, for money, to not lose my position). Today I go back because its the right thing to do, and have the good fortune of casting those past reasons aside. On the farm, I batted for both teams simultaneously – the ‘working’ woman and the stay-at-home mother. I was both and I was neither.
When I began writing here I assumed it would help me make peace with my decision to give up my professional life to be a mother and a farmer. Instead, I find I am once again ready to be someone who works outside of the house. Entirely by choice. For reasons other than money (although of course this won’t hurt). Because I want to. Because I can.
I now know what it is like to indulge my efforts and creativity entirely in a farm. I have wanted to know what that felt like for eons. I now know. It is everything you can imagine it is. It is nothing you would ever expect it to be.
As I get ready to leave my cocoon once again, I can honestly say that I’m ready to fly again. But this time I will fly in a different sort of skin. I’m sure there are few on the planet that could see taking a government job as flying. But I can promise you that I wholeheartedly do. Everything that has been lacking in my life over the past two years is available to me in this position. Clean clothes, adult conversation, quiet time in the car, delving into research again, writing my thoughts down and exchanging ideas with others. Clean fingernails. The smell of soap.
I know the novelty will wear off soon as a new set of problems emerges. I also know I will terribly miss the heartbeat of my home as I leave it every day for greener pastures. But I have to say that new challenges seem like a complete and total breath of fresh air right now. I think our family could use some diversity in our tasks. I think my children need to be part of farm life but not so much so that they learn that the closest thing to a family vacation is about washing 400 pounds of squash.
I shall hold forever in my memory the gift that the past two years has given our family. I learned so much and had a great many opportunities to be closer to my kids, my land, our community and our food.
But I think it is important to remember that we are neither butterfly nor caterpillar. We are both. And neither. We share the ability to move between these states at will, within each day, each season or from year to year.
Because that’s what choices are for.