When you meet someone new, one of the first questions that is asked is, “What do you do?” And, almost automatically, judgments are made. A firefighter is brave, a teacher is patient, a doctor is intelligent.
I was always proud to say I was a teacher. It had been my goal, and I had made it my career. And even if society at large doesn’t seem to hold teachers in the esteem I think they are deserving of, I could say proudly that I was a public school teacher. I believed my work was important, that each day I was doing my part to try and make the world a better place.
Now, my answer is more complicated. I am no longer a teacher. But, do I need to qualify that answer? Do I say, “I used to be a teacher.” Because then that invites a flurry of other questions, such as: “What did you teach?” and “How long did you teach for?” and “Why aren’t you teaching any longer?” Do I want to give an acquaintance a brief medical history, detailing my need to leave my teaching career due to my autoimmune disease? Do they want to know? Do they even need to know?
Do I want to answer, “Writer”? Because since I’ve left room 7, I am writing more and more, submitting my work, and getting notified that some of my essays are being selected for publication in soon-to-be-released anthologies. But, if I answer “writer” then I will be asked, “What do you write?” and “Where has it been published?” and “How much do you make?”. I write personal essays that have appeared in different publications, although not all are as well known as the Los Angeles Times (which by the way did publish one of my essays many years ago).
My last alternative is to answer, “I’m a stay-at-home mom.” Something I have never been able to say. Since leaving my students, former co-workers have asked if I’m bored being at home. The answer is an emphatic, “NO WAY!” I have so many things I want to do, and am curious about. I have books to read, DVDs to re-watch, closet shelves to organize, new recipes to try out. I am learning, that just because I used to do more in a day, doesn’t mean it’s good to do things that way. I am learning that it’s okay to take my son to and from school, do some writing, meet a friend for lunch, prepare dinner for my family, do laundry, and make that my day’s activities.
So, let’s role play.
Parent at my son’s school: “So, what do you do?”
Me: “I’m a stay-at-home mom. What do you do?”
And, I’ll leave it at that for the time being. If the parent expresses an interest, asks if I used to work, or how I spend my time when my son’s at school, then I’ll give more information.
Truth be told, being a mom is my highest honor and highest responsibility, my most difficult job with limited amounts of vacation time, and, it is the one that gives me the most joy.