Living the Life
Every so often, even in this “progressive” day of equality and acceptance, I am slapped square in the face with a dose of reality.
Every so often, I find myself in a situation where my husband and I are in a meet-and-greet situation, and we are asked where we went to school, and every so often, I find myself gritting my teeth and biting back snarky responses when we are asked what we do for a living.
For example, let’s say my husband and I are at a conference, and we are having dinner at a restaurant with a nice couple we just met.
“So, what do you do for a living?” Mr. Conference asks. It is expected, but I still cringe.
“I’m a pastor,” my husband says. Insert here the obligatory “where do you pastor” follow up questions. Then the wife turns to me expectantly.
“What do you do?” she prompts.
And there it is, the question that will set off a series of unfortunate events in the conversation. I almost feel sorry for her, because she has no idea of what a minefield of uncomfortable pauses she is wading into.
I take a deep breath. “I’m a SAHM.”
“A Sam?” she looks confused. I could have made it easier, but I’m suffering from low blood sugar waiting for a meal that is taking an eternity to arrive.
“I’m a stay-at-home-mom,” I clarify. This is where the first awkward pause occurs.
“Oh,” she says, with a downturn of her voice. So much said in one little word. I am not telepathic, but it isn’t hard to discern what she is thinking: What do you do all day? Sometimes the question is actually voiced. My husband usually cringes when that happens because he knows the inquirer is unaware of my sarcastic streak.
“I just sit around eating bonbons and watching soaps, or go shopping,” I say. There are usually two reactions to this statement. One is that my dinner companion will pick up on my sarcasm, and laugh, uncomfortably, as she should after asking such an insulting question. Another reaction is a raised eyebrow, and: “Really?”.
No, not “really” doll face. I work at home. That means when my children were younger I was breastfeeding (gasp) and changing cloth diapers. That means that I raised a garden and canned food for the family. That means that every day I was totally engaged with my children, my house, and everything that goes into feeding a family of 9. That means I help save money by not putting my 7 children in daycare, and I make bread and laundry detergent and cook from scratch to make ends meet. And some days, the crowning achievement is unclogging the toilet with dish detergent and boiling water. Here’s the other thing, my dear, unfortunate dinner companion, I love it, and wouldn’t trade it. Really.
I can handle the stigma ignorant people give stay at home moms. What really sets my teeth on edge is the same scenario above, but let’s say there is another couple sitting with us at the table. Mr. Conference asks the other man (Mr. Conference never talks directly to the wife for some reason. Maybe he thinks he’ll get cooties.) who answers:
“I’m a stay at home dad.”
“That’s wonderful! That is amazing! Good for you!” is the general outcry.
Why is it so much better, trendier, for a guy to be the stay at home parent than the woman? I’m not against stay at home dads. In fact, I’ve petitioned my husband to be a stay at home dad for a long time (with me still home, of course). When he reminds me that I would have to go work outside the home, I tell him that takes all the fun out of it.
But wait… it gets better. Let’s continue with our dinner with the conference couple. The Mr. Mom couple has excused themselves to call home and check on their kids. The meal has finally arrived, the fish even looks halfway edible. The coleslaw, on the other hand, is a gamble. As is the ensuing conversation.
Mr. Conference turns the questioning to my husband. “Where did you go to college?”
My husband tells him, and when asks, tells him he has a Master’s in divinity. The Conference couple nod enthusiastically with approval. Then Mrs. Conference asks me the same question. I sigh.
“I got my MRS degree.” The poor lady looks confused again. I sigh again, then explain. “I didn’t go to college. I got married instead.” The look on Mrs. Conference’s face says it all. She is duly underwhelmed by my education and choice of profession.
“She’s in college now though. Taking classes online,” My husband is trying to help. I appreciate it, but Mrs. Conference has a look on her face that says why shouldn’t I be taking classes? I’m home all day doing nothing anyway, right?
I know what is coming next, and I have a pretty good idea at this point what her reaction will be.
“What are you majoring in?” She asks.
“I’m getting my B.A. in Creative Writing.” There is now one of those very awkward pauses in the conversation. Even Mr. Conference is at a loss.
“Like, copywriting?” she ventures.
“No, like creative writing, “ I respond shortly, wondering if this lady even understands the English language.
“You take classes for that?”
My husband is now rolling his eyes while he takes a drink from his soda. To be polite, I say, “Oh yes, there is a lot of work to writing, a lot of techniques and strategies. Not to mention the editing and revision process which really isn’t the same thing though everyone thinks they are,” I notice Mrs. Conference’s eyes glaze over a little, so I cease and desist in waxing eloquence about writing skills.
As if on cue, the question that irritates me the most: “What do you do with a degree like that?” It doesn’t matter who asks it.
A degree like what? Well let’s see, if I’m getting a degree in creative writing, then I think I’ll put it to use by going into neurosurgery! Yeah! My husband, who has been married to me for 26 years knows what I’m thinking. He takes a bit of food, with a little grin.
I take a deep breath. “Well, I thought writing might be a good choice,” I try to laugh when I say it, but there is an unfortunate black hole in the conversation. I try to cover it up by babbling. “For a long time, I couldn’t go back to school because of raising a family, but now that the kids are all getting older and don’t need me so much, it seemed like a perfect time to get my degree.”
“A degree in writing,” Mrs. Conference states, like she is still trying to wrap her narrow little brain around it.
“Oh, how many kids do you have?” Mr. Conference tries to get on solid ground. Unfortunately, he lands in quicksand.
“Seven,” I say cheerfully. Mr. and Mrs. Conference’s forks drop to their plates.
“Seven?” Mrs. Conference whispers.
“Yup, and they are all homeschooled,” I go on, plodding deeper into the mire of double-standard stigma for stay at home moms.
“Home… schooled?” Mrs. Conference is trying out the words like she’s never heard them before.
“Want to see their pictures? I have them on my phone here…” I start rummaging through my purse.
Mr. Conference waves at the waitress for the check. “Oh, look at the time. We’ve got to get back,” he says.
“I wonder what the next session is on?” Mrs. Conference stands, gathering her purse and coat. She’s making a valiant effort to change the subject.
“It’s about the impact of population control on the environment.” It’s not, but I can’t help myself. Hasty exits are made, and we are left with our check and a chuckle. Ah yes, living the life!
Disclaimer: Names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent.