A few weeks ago we had our first visitors to our new house. My husband's youngest brother came to see us and brought two of his (low-20's aged) friends. He and my husband planned to go skiing that weekend, including a lesson for OC. I was going to watch her get her lesson, then knit inside the lodge while drinking hot chocolate.
His friends were very friendly and talkative, and I was enjoying the company. That is, until I was asked an innocent question that I still don't know how to answer.
We were getting to know each other, and there was the inevitable 'What do you do' line of questioning. We spent some time talking about their jobs while I cringed, knowing it was going to be my turn soon. And before I was ready, it was my turn.
"So what do you do?" The question was directed to me.
I thought to myself, Everything! Nothing interesting! All kinds of things! How much time do you have?
I could've launched into a litany of things that define my day: I raise a child by myself during the day five (sometimes six) days a week while my husband works long hours to get his new office off the ground; I spend an hour or two per day teaching her lessons to augment her chaotic classroom environment; I keep everybody fed including a lunch ready for my husband every morning, much like a proper 50's housewife; I keep the house clean (sort of); I unpack the boxes and put things away nearly all by myself; I'm lonely and haven't befriended another mom yet; and at the end of nearly every day, I drink, much like a proper housewife.
That would've been boring, and a conversation-killer. Since I rarely have conversations with adults these days, I didn't want to put this one to an early death. I gave it some thought, going over the complicated feelings I have over defining myself in a different way, and then said, "I stay at home with OC."
It was simple, straightforward, and not laced with any traces of shame or frustration. Because I'm a grownup.
"Oh," she said. "So you're just a mom."
Now, let me say in her defense that she didn't mean anything by it. I could tell by her tone that she wasn't being snotty or rude, she was being young. I could tell that difference existed when she said that, and believe me, I wouldn't defend anyone who said something like that unless the comment truly was devoid of malicious intent.
Nevertheless, her comment sliced deeply inside of me and hit a sore spot. I wanted to slap her but then what would have been the point? I am 'just a mom.' I 'just' stay at home and raise my daughter. I think we can dispose of the word, 'just', but other than that she is right. Except for that word 'just', I realize I shouldn't be offended by it.
I am a mom. I take care of another human being. I'm busy every day. I represent one side of a division of labor in this house which, if didn't get done, my husband would be over his eyeballs and couldn't function what with having to be up so late doing what I do every day. What I do is important, if uninteresting in conversation. I know that.
I do feel pride over my daughter and what I do for her. It goes without saying. What I find hard is to find it admirable to do something that anyone else can do. Things like, cook and clean and unpack boxes. Those are not things that are special. And lots of people have children. There are millions of moms in the world. I can see why it's easy to dismiss with the word 'just'.
To be honest, I am a little jealous of my husband. He goes to work (with his lunch already packed!), talks to adults, and works at things he likes to do. Not everyone can do his job, or knows the technicalities of it. He has things to add to conversations with persons he just meets, has a sense of satisfaction - and a paycheck - at the end of the day. He has a place to go every day.
I don't get a paycheck for what I do. I don't use any of the technical skills I used to when I was employed. The truth is, I miss it. I miss the work, being in the loop of new technology and learning things from coworkers. At the same time, I'm grateful for the chance to be at home with OC. I've missed so much time with her already.
While I was working, my daughter was in daycare. I am not giving an opinion on daycare in general. That is a boring debate. What I want to say is that my experience in putting my child in daycare as an infant was wrenching. I felt bad for her spending so much time in daycare. She needed me, and I missed her. I loved my job, but at the time I hated that it was at the expense of my daughter in daycare all day long. Most of my friends who had kids had unique structure to their schedules in order to either have their kids stay with relatives, or to stay in daycare a shorter time during each day. I didn't have that. Keeping my job allowed me to move on with my life and eventually got us here, all of which is a story for another day.
Now I'm married and I stay home and we live here. Why the hell aren't I joyous and over the moon about all this time with my daughter???
Well, for one thing, I'm a human, multi-dimensional being. For another, life is complicated, and that's the way it is. Society is another. Being at home with nowhere to go and no place to be is another. Now living in a new place and not having friends is difficult. The reasons are many. This is where I am with it right now.
My husband doesn't understand why it was a hard transition to stay at home because he looks at all the time I spent commuting and all the effort in order to get to work, that it got better as soon as I stayed home. From his point of view, it got a lot easier for me. It did, but all the other emotions can't be quantified like feeling good about a graphic design job well done, interaction with colleagues, things like that.
It's okay that he doesn't understand completely, he didn't go through it. He respects my feelings and that's enough. He supports me in finding what I need to do for myself now. After I told him how I felt he said we should set money aside to buy the equipment necessary to do design work from home. Or, I could go back to school for a four-year degree. Or, whatever. I appreciate that support.
I don't know what I'll do, but I have to keep moving forward. I enjoy volunteering at OC's school once a week. I may do SMART and tutoring. I may go back to college when she's in First Grade. I may homeschool her. I have no idea about that yet.
What I do know is that I won't let someone else define me.
Finally, I will find a good reply to that comment if I ever encounter it again. So far I've got "shut up, beyotch" and "it takes one to know one" but I feel that something more witty - and that makes sense - might be in order.