Nine months ago, I finished my PhD in Literature from Ball State University. It was a huge accomplishment, and “Dr” is now a title that I have the right to pretentiously carry around with me and impose upon others for life (I seriously have fantasies about correcting misogynistic mansplainers. “Listen, Miss, I think that I know exactly what I’m talking about–” “Actually, it’s Doctor. Dr. Baumgardner-Burke.” BOOM. Drop mic. Walk offstage.). Though I’m still having nightmares where my committee comes to my door and claims that my degree is invalid because I never finished my required Physics II course (please notice that my subconscious is a dick), as one of my good friends told me, “You DID this. It’s DONE. And they can never take it away from you.”

I did this.

It’s done.

So.

Now what?

For nine months, I’ve grown increasingly anxious. Increasingly frustrated. Increasingly depressed. I finally get to be a fully dedicated stay-at-home mother, with little to no outside commitments to distract me from my family, from my two girls. I get to make crafts. I get to plan and execute elaborate birthday parties (the last two have been sick, trust me). I get to read books. Perfect my banana bread recipe. Take up running again. Play tea parties and picnics and princesses and dress up. I’ve done all of those. And it’s been fun. It really has.

And I think I hate it.

Now that I don’t have a dissertation to complete, I feel as though I’ve lost a sense of purpose. A sense of urgency. A sense of motivation. A sense of self.

I’ve started questioning my own value in my home.

“I could weave something today, but if I don’t, nobody’s going to care, because nobody’s waiting for one of my blankets.”

“I should clean out and organize my desk and paperwork. But what’s the point? I’m not writing a syllabus anytime soon.”

“I can try out this new recipe. But the girls just want to eat Happy Meals anyway. I guess I could use a burger, too.”

And, worst of all: “What’s the point of writing? I could publish something for a dozen people online, or I could just stop. The only people who might notice are my father and my sixth grade teacher.”

My novel, my memoir, my blog, my short story collection. It wasn’t that I was too busy or otherwise occupied to write them these past months. Instead, I convinced myself that they were just never going to be written. That they were nothing but the lucid hallucinations of a lazy daydreamer. These past nine months, I have written less on my creative projects than I ever did while I was writing my dissertation. Back then, the rigors of a schedule, of needing to make progress leeched into other areas of my life. Though I felt guilty taking time away from my studies, I still usually found an hour or two every week to work on my blog, to weave, to have coffee or wine with friends. Not only was I better at scheduling such “luxuries” when I had the pressure of my deadlines beating down on me, but I also felt more deserving of such breaks from mothering and researching.

Now, working towards nothing, I feel worthy of nothing.

A few weeks ago, I hit my lowest point. For two days, I did nothing. Nothing. I woke up the girls, got them dressed (eventually), poured us all bowls of cereal, then I turned on the television. One day, we watched 9 episodes of My Little Pony and two movies. They paced in laps around the play room. I played sudoku on my tablet. We kept the door to the outside locked.

I cried when I realized what I had done to them.

Back when I first became pregnant, I predicted that being a mother would certainly be rewarding, but not entirely fulfilling for me. I like organization. I like structure. I like having a schedule. I love the feeling of crossing off things on my to do list. I’ve always found that I’ve accomplished more when my time is constricted by schedules, by conflicts, by the delicate balance between necessity and pleasure. I’m worried that this early prediction is really coming true. My dissertation wasn’t a job in the strictest sense of the word. I wasn’t being paid (I was paying them after all!). It was solitary, isolating even, and I would go months without having a meaningful conversation about my research with another adult. But it was work. There was visible progress. There was a goal. Yes, I complained and stressed and worried endlessly about the nightmare of planning and scheduling, but I had something to schedule.

It took a long time to figure out what has been missing for me, but I think I recognize now what I need to do. I don’t know yet if I’m going to look for an actual job, but I am actively searching for some form of employment. Maybe volunteering more at my girls’ school. Helping out a friend with a business website. Becoming more active in the family business. Organizing a crafting collective for my mom’s group. Something. Something to give me drive and purpose. To anchor me again. To fix what has broken in me.

I think I need to be a working mom.

I need to work again.

Because nothing works now.

I need me to work again.

A working mom.

A Mom. Working.

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