“My feets is tired, but my soul is rested” — A Meditation on International Women’s Day

By Sabrina Völz

“Mom­my, mom­my. The oth­er moth­ers are all unem­ployed,” were the first words out of my son’s mouth as he dart­ed toward our car. Not exact­ly the kind of state­ment some­one might expect from a 6‑year-old dur­ing his first week of school. Beam­ing from ear to ear, I imme­di­ate­ly cleared up the lit­tle mis­un­der­stand­ing, but I real­ized that for him it was com­plete­ly nor­mal to have a work­ing moth­er. Nor­mal. His words were music to my ears and played over and over in my head. I imag­ined what a good hus­band, col­league, and boss he might become know­ing that sim­ple truth. How­ev­er, being a full-time work­ing moth­er has not always been nor­mal, not even in the 21st century.

IWD

At that moment, time seemed to stand still as a num­ber of mem­o­ries from my own life came flood­ing back. I remem­bered my sur­prise when I learned that I was ‘late’ in apply­ing for a spot in a Ger­man kinder­garten for chil­dren from ages three to six. The year was 2001; my son was two. Appar­ent­ly, most Ger­man par­ents, I was told, reg­is­tered their babies with their local kinder­garten short­ly after their child’s birth. At that time, it all seemed sur­re­al like an episode out of Bewitched. Only I had no mag­i­cal pow­ers like Saman­tha to twin­kle a day­care spot into exis­tence. Why didn’t any­one tell me about how the process works? This can’t be hap­pen­ing, I thought. I began to pan­ic. And, unfor­tu­nate­ly, the news went from bad to worse. Lat­er, I found out that there were no full-time kinder­gartens in my com­mu­ni­ty and that I would have to sub­ject my child to two half-day kinder­garten spots. The chil­dren came and went and came and went. My son and a few oth­er chil­dren were left behind, “Mom­my, why can’t I go home, too?”

I also remem­bered the shocked stare of a well-mean­ing uni­ver­si­ty col­league who noticed that I was preg­nant for the sec­ond time. “Oh, Ms. Völz,” he blurt­ed out, “How will you man­age?” These words have haunt­ed me ever since. Shocked, I had no answer. And to be hon­est, I don’t remem­ber how I got myself out of there, but I was gone in a flash. OUT OF THERE. Imag­ine the nerve. No con­grat­u­la­tions, only a con­cerned look of pity and an ‘inno­cent’ ques­tion that plunged me tem­porar­i­ly into mild depres­sion. Was he right? Could I real­ly man­age both a fam­i­ly and a career? I was the first in my fam­i­ly to earn a Ph.D. Was it all for noth­ing? The real­i­ty of being a sin­gle par­ent dur­ing the work week as well as a full-time aca­d­e­m­ic with two chil­dren two years apart set in. I looked around and did not find many female aca­d­e­mics with full-time posi­tions in sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions: one child maybe, but not two. No grand­par­ents or fam­i­ly on either side to take the chil­dren for a week­end or fall break. Ever. Yet, I was and still am deter­mined to have my cake and eat it, too.

I’ve read the books. I know the argu­ments, but deep down I am still not con­vinced. We are not liv­ing in a post-fem­i­nist world as far as I am con­cerned. Not in Ger­many, not in the U.S., and cer­tain­ly not in a num­ber of oth­er coun­tries where female gen­i­tal muti­la­tion is a real­i­ty, in regions where girls can­not go to and stay in school, or in places where women are raped in plain sight of many who refuse to act. I tru­ly hope that all women all over the world will some­day have access to equal pay, equal rights, and an equal chance to suc­ceed in their careers what­ev­er they may be.

But until that time, let us not for­get those who have gone the extra mile for us or moti­vat­ed us to stay the course. I remem­ber my children’s day care moth­er who lov­ing­ly took my dear Thing 1 and Thing 2 into her home until they were old enough to go to kinder­garten, and I remem­ber my for­mer boss whose sup­port over the years kept me sane. And final­ly, I hon­or Moth­er Pol­lard whose words became the bat­tle cry of the Mont­gomery Bus Boy­cott and lat­er the Civ­il Rights Move­ment: “My feets is tired, but my soul is rest­ed.” These icon­ic words have with­stood the test of time and con­tin­ue to inspire new gen­er­a­tions. They cer­tain­ly have inspired me.

Today is Inter­na­tion­al Women’s Day, whose slo­gan this year is “Make it Hap­pen.” Let us do just that.

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