Stevie is procrastinating. We do have plans to continue our recent religious debate, but my favorite atheist Jew has a TV program to script, children with activities, homes divided between zip codes, and well… a life. But me, I’m a relic from bygone days: I’m not busy. Today I accidentally locked myself out of the house, and sat for one hour in my bum-warming car enjoying the nothing-to-do-ness– the bald fact that I’m not vitally necessary. There will be no grave repercussions from missing my slow-cooker window. The children will not balk over untidied play spaces. Absolutely nothing hangs on my response to, attendance at, or opinion of anything; and truthfully, any busyness in my life is of my own making. But embracing my universal unimportance with contented calm came slowly.
I used to bristle when people asked me, “What do you do all day?” The never-ending childcare of small boys left me exhausted, oddly lonely, and waiting for a reasonable hour to pour a glass of wine. Anyone who asks a mom (or dad) on Daily Toddler DeathWatch to account for her time deserves the mother lode of snarky retorts. There were many times I squelched an urge to splash sauvignon blanc into the pretend-to-care face of the pant-suited bitch asking this infuriating question. But now, as my small people are bussed away for one third of every weekday, and my participation in the workforce a decade in the past, the question sounds valid. At a recent cocktail party, I was pressed to itemize my paycheck-less activities and realized, that over the years, two approaches to this question have evolved: Descriptive Torture and Boastful Sloth.
Because I used to be a medical sort of person and have science degrees and whatnot, I get, “Will you ever go back to work?” as often as Ben Stein hears, “Bueller?” Vaulted from the reproductive years, liberated from malignant cells, and unburdened by school age children for the greater part of the day, certainly I’ve considered doing something with myself now? Sure have. Lookie what blogging girl hath wrought today: The Unemployed Mommy Algorithm! All paths lead to responses that amuse me… or to cocktails. All good.
“WHAT DO YOU DO ALL DAY?”
I’ll admit Boastful Sloth is more fun than Descriptive Torture. Even if I’m embellishing the mundane to the point of absurdity, the daily doings of stay-at-home-moms have a sort of chloroform effect. But if pressed to defend my day to a mom who works outside of the home (and employs a small team to outsource the mind-numbing labor), it’s only fitting I should trap her into listening to what she’s missing. I’ll bore her with line item descriptions of everything that happened from Teddy’s ill-timed, bus-missing poo, through crockpot recipes and laundry totals, right up to fraction-dividing extra credit math sheets, soccer halftime snack choices, and the great bathing debate (does swimming count?).
Those traveling down another path with this insidious query might inspire my best Boastful Sloth. This approach is more charming after four drinks. I can make days of yoga, pedicures, fancy lunches, garden tours, volunteer do-gooding, and home makeover projects sound super important and delightfully time-consuming. Who has time for a job with a beeper? I’ve got bulbs to plant and a squash lesson at 3. Ooh, and there’s my bringing-home-bacon husband over there! Yes, that devilishly handsome man fetching me another Prosecco. Isn’t he dreamy?
You’ll notice that I’m a little touchy about judge-y comments from other women. But, c’mon sisters, if we’re out of the house without the kids, let’s bond over the irritating idiosyncrasies of the smaller species. Let’s clink glasses, toasting a temporary reprieve from DeathWatch, diapers, wailing, and “Watch, mommy… watch THIS… watch me NOW!” And if you are gainfully employed, I want you to stop wearing pantsuits. I also want to know all about how working works, or doesn’t. It’s the (second) most important discussion in our lives at this moment, and peppering it with biased inquiries dishonors the conversation. (Please share the shitty, loaded questions thrown at you by drunk and/or annoying stay-at-homers!)
I know my activities aren’t essential, but that doesn’t mean I think they’re meaningless. And though my days aren’t demanding, I’ve got important stuff going on… like an international conversation about religion. And, well, also… maybe by summertime, an actual job-ish kind of thing. My cocktail chitchat may soon gain approval of The Busy People! And it’s kind of perfect in that I can work from home (no pantsuits) leaving plenty of time to draft algorithms. I’m going to need a new one.*
*algorithm, not pantsuit
What, exactly, is wrong with pant suits? If I had the legs for a more interesting “little black dress”, that would likely be my preferred choice. Since my less-than-awful gams haven’t been accessible since the late 80s I consider my boring pantsuits a public courtesy.
I love you, and your little black dresses and Louboutains.
Hee hee hee. I never once pictured you when I was writing this. You, my darling, bring the sexy to anything you wear. I don’t see the pantsuit. I see the WOMAN. Everyone else, though? Everyone else needs to stop wearing them.
The question that niggles me, and used to make me feel worth less than other people, was ‘do you work?’ As if somehow being mother to a disabled child plus two more little people wasn’t ‘work’. This was especially galling when I was a single mother. In the UK, the emphasis is emphatically on the working woman. Women who stay at home have been publicly derided by high-flying men and women, including female politicians and the wives of male politicians. Despite the fact that being a stay-at-home mother was never an actual choice, I’ve done my best.
My usual answer, incidentally, is a cop-out. I reply, “I’m studying with the Open University.” This gives me the label of ‘Mature Student’, which is a step up from SAHM (in the UK, this is the social equivalent of dog poo collector). Then I mention I’ve just finished a Maths course, at which point they either look at me in awe (possibly veiled terror… or disgust, I’m not sure), or smile broadly, happy to discover another member of the Maths-geek-clan.
Incidentally, why aren’t men with children asked ‘do you work?’ And why do women judge one another over how ‘successful’ they are at ‘having it all’?
Thanks for sharing, Sandy. Why did I assume you Brits would be nicer to each other? Perhaps all of the tea sharing and whatnot. I think the politically correct machine over here prevents people from asking “do you work” without tagging on “…OUTSIDE the home?” I used to justify my days, citing years of dedicated schooling and doctoring, but now I’ve morphed into a drunken braggart telling people how lucky I am. Every family situation is different, and I want to know how it works for others… especially over drinks while we mock the incessant neediness of our children.
I love math, too!
‘Tea sharing and whatnot’ LOL The BBC has a lot to answer for! Or is it Jane Austen? Thank you for making me chuckle 😉
(I wrote that without a hint of irony, then realised I was sipping a cup of Darjeeling).
I’ll be sending this to the wife when she leaves work. Boastful sloth! That’s me.
As “working mom in training” (WMIT – a very different entity from “working mom”), I can share my own perspective, which may or may not differ from the average woman in pant suits.
On “Boastful Sloth”: I wish that I could be “Boastful Sloth”…and go to work sometimes. If I see another woman at a cocktail party and ask “So, what do you do?” I am probably just trying to start a conversation that doesn’t have to do with free flaps, replants, or medicine in general. I welcome “Boastful Sloth” so that I can hear about soemthing else. I have also heard “do you work outside the home?”, which I think I would deliver like a stilted question from a patient-doctor interview, so I just hope that the intonation of my question is not perceived in the same way as “what do you do ALL DAY?” I also feel compelled to ask because unless I came straight from a presentation, I am more likely to be in a cocktail dress than a suit, and know that in such attire I am seen as “spouse,” so I make no judgment about other women in their stilletos. I don’t think there is anything wrong with being a SAHM, if the situation works and is best for you – and that is probably true in your case. I would never recommend returning to medicine, not because I don’t think you COULD do it, but because it probably wouldn’t be the best decision on a number of levels for your life as a whole. The work that SAHM does is tough, can be isolating (as you mention), and may feel unrewarded on a day-to-day basis – and I don’t think it is something that I could do long-term. That said, I realize that my life would be a lot easier if somehow the career track were reversed, and I could be “SAH worker” now, and busy, travelling worker later in life…but that will never be the case.
On pant suits (and pants in general): I have actually had this discussion with co-residents, and it comes down to this:
1) Dresses are awesome – especially in the summer – but there is no place to put the pager. I have a co-resident who clips it to her tall boots, but this only works with firm boots, and only for us pathology residents who are paged very infrequently. Ditto for the ID badge. It would be nice to have a fashionable and convenient place to keep these items while wearing a dress.
2) The pant suits that I wear are all designer (Max Mara, Karen Millen, etc.), with very feminine seams and careful tailoring. I actually see these as very different from gray polyester with large shoulder pads, and I think you might even be convinced that you would like an expertly designed and tailored pant suit. I rarely wear them, but on the occasions that I do it is either for convenience (due to weather or the need to match the suit to a pair of shoes), or in situations where I feel judged by OTHER WOMEN. I don’t think that most men would judge me differently for wearing an appropriate skirt over pants, but on the chance that a woman will get catty over an exposed calf, better to keep them covered. The one exception was when I had to attend interviews with a breast pump in my bag. The amount of discomfort that this potentially gave the poor guys escorting me on those days necessitated balance with a pant suit.
3) Pants are most convenient when handling a baby/toddler and trying to go to work. When velcro and small hands meet stockings, it is a disaster before the day has even started.
At the end of the day, I think all of us often wonder what it would be like on the other side of the fence, but can’t we all try on a pant suit or cocktail dress for a change once in awhile?
I loved this post. It made me laugh out loud. I often get told perception is everything. Being the quixotic eccentric that I am I get that a lot. The flow chart was great and I would end up on the end where we would go out for a drink and discuss the idiosyncrasies of the soon to be just like me daughters I have. I look forward to the day the curse kicks in and they have one just like themselves. To bad we don’t figure out our mother was right all along until we are one ourselves. I too enjoy a good glass of Cabernet. I was on the other side of this fence as a working mother and my husband was a stay at home dad. I get the how could you desert your children looks while my husband gets the how wonderful and how heroic remarks rather than what did you do all day. I had to bite my tongue to keep down the snarky comments. You are so right about the double standard. He would agree with all your comments about the isolation factor though. So I am not so sure what sets everyone off about the pantsuit comments. I saw a man out and about today in M & M pajama pants and a Coca Cola jacket. I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder but there is plenty of bad fashion sense to go around. Personally I am glad when I get out of the house with my clothes intact and I remembered to brush my hair. It gets hairy some days just getting out of bed. On the other hand in the scope of all things how small are my little issues. My grandmother used to say “I peed in the ocean and every little bit helps.” Britt have a glass of wine for me.
Hi Fernie! I have no doubt we would find each other clinking glasses in dark corners. And I think you’re the only one who hears that I’m kidding about the pantsuits. (Although when I think about mommies who aren’t very nice, they’re usually in pantsuits. Plus, the very word pantsuit is so funny to me, I cannot stop myself.) Now I’m in love with your grandmother and want to read her memoir. Thanks for stopping by!
I started reading back through old blog entries. We have more in common than I knew. I too was informed that I had cancer on my first mammogram last November. God was definitely looking out for me. I was stage 3 with lymphoma not breast cancer when they found it which was good for me according to the doctors or I would have been a goner. Strange how these things work out as it was the only place outside of my kidneys and liver where the cancer was and I had no symptoms. Faith is an amazing thing because while everyone else was falling apart over the diagnosis I always knew everything would be okay. So on to new things; perhaps I should invest in a pantsuit as I have been told I need to be a little tougher (meaner) at work to get the job done. Any recommendations? My grandmother has left an amazing legacy in poems and antidotes plus the eccentricity of the next several generations which definitely make us her memoirs. It took me until after she was gone to figure it out but she always told me “Never be people” . I definitely know that you fit that category.
First of all, I like yer blog guuuuuurl… Secondly, I don’t have kids yet and I might never have them. But, I don’t think I could ever be a stay-at-home mom because going to work is just so much easier. Seriously, if I feel like slacking off, no one will get their head stuck in the banister. And, if they do, it’s not my fault. Also, if I stayed at home, I feel the chances of my actual LIKING my children would be slim. We’ll see what happens, but you people are saints. I’m so glad you don’t let us self-important pant-suited “working women” get you down.
Interesting that you should mention the head in the banister. I suspect that either you or someone close to you did just that. The next best trick is sticking something up your nose that is required to be removed by a doctor. I have been their and done that with my children. But only because their head were to big to stick between the banisters. :-). By the way I didn’t think I would have kids either but they are worth it and I made it the stay at home Dad.
Great post as always. It makes me even more eager to write about recent discoveries of Toddler Hell. This past weekend I invited two childhood friends to my home and even sent the kids off to be with grandparents so that I could fully entertain them. I ended up getting a lecture about getting out of the house more and being on Facebook less. I couldn’t help but laugh, they each have one child, that has graduated from high school no less. I often wonder if people understand that if it weren’t for Facebook friends, I’d probably have none at all. Right now, I can’t wait to be unimportant. Actually, I’d be happy just to get through a day without having to wipe somebody’s ass. I know, I know, I’m gonna miss this.
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I love this! Especially the flow chart! and for the record, I was in the presence of the question asking but did not ask those crazy questions! It takes an army in one woman to raise a child (and even more if there’s more than one). This is why I fear for my unborn children if I ever have any. Kudos to you!
Aren’t flow charts fun? Thanks for these kind words… how did I ever miss that BuzzFeed thing? xoxo
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