Thursday, January 20, 2011

"What Do You Do?"

I read an interesting article the other day about how to answer the question “What do you do?” It got me thinking a bit. I don’t hear that question very often these days. Actually, to be completely honest, I don’t hear that question at all. Before Maggie was born people would ask me when I was going to go back to work, but since we added the little cubby bear to the family no one has said a thing. Which is a good thing. Because the question/statement combination; “So when are you going to go to back to work… I mean, you didn’t go to college to be a mom!” causes a fake, plastic smile to freeze on my face and I’m just about as good at faking smiles as I am at faking hugs (which is to say, not at all).

Now-a-days the words I hear most frequently, from people I know and from random strangers passing me on the street is the phrase: “You’ve got your hands full, don’t you?” It could possibly be because Sadie perpetually has a look that lets everyone know she may be plotting an escape. And she is.

I saw a picture of a quiet looking Hollywood starlet’s child the other day. The actress was lying on the beach as the child played nearby. It caught my eye because I remember that particular actress being pregnant at the same time I was, but as I studied the picture one thought stood out… I can’t imagine lying down with Sadie playing at the beach. She’d charge straight in the water (it happened. It was right around 50 degrees outside and the water was freezing, as it tends to be on the Oregon border in October, and she went straight in.). Or she would head out to explore! She definitely wouldn’t play quietly next to me while I relaxed! In my most wonderful dreams Sadie stays quietly near me at all times when we’re out. The reality is something else entirely.

Back to the original question (and the original point of this post! I’m so easily distracted!). Before I found out I was expecting Sadie I hated hearing the words “What do you do?” They made me wince slightly.

You see life had just changed drastically for me. I had gone from working as at a rock climbing gym in the city and having been hired to work for the clandestine services of the CIA (after 13 months of the hiring process) to being a housewife in a town of 164 with a tiny trailer and an inflatable mattress. I was writing a novel and working as a sports reporter for the local newspaper, but I didn’t really like talking about the novel (it’s done by the way, and it’s hiding now, all 90-something-thousand words of it, along with another one I finished after I finished it, on a high shelf in a closet at my parent’s house) and I didn’t really feel like my ten hours a week sports writing gig answered the question.

I experimented with answers. If I said “homemaker” people looked at me like I was insane, as if they wanted to say “don’t you know that’s not a job” (I wanted to reply to their look, “it most certainly is a job! And a full time one at that!” but that’s the problem with responding to looks, you have to be much bolder than I am). If I said writer, they wanted to know about what I was writing (which I was even less enthusiastic about talking about). Maybe I should have said “farmer.” I did have 90 tomato plants at that point (a seed planting mistake that flourished and supplied half the town with tomatoes all summer and fall long), along with eggplants, peppers, carrots, radishes, lettuce and grapes.

The author of the blog I was reading had struggled with the answer to the question as well (and she has come up with a strategy for answering that’s less strained than anything I came up with).

Not having to answer the question these days is something of a relief. For now. And I have two or three more years before the next round of questions start… “Why aren’t you’re kids in school right now?”… And then I can hear all the different opinions about homeschooling. I bet they’re just as much fun as the opinions I’ve heard about “wasting” my education or being a homemaker! Maybe I will have perfected my "listening to something ridiculous" smile by then!


  1. Once your kids get a little older and you're homeschooling, you'll be able to look those people straight in the eye and say, "What DON'T I do?"

    No one asks me what I do anymore when I'm with the kids (although they did when my family was smaller and younger). The question that I am now asked more than any other (after "are they all yours?") is: "HOW do you do it?"

  2. I'm technically a WAHM as a freelance writer, but when people bring up the topic of me not having a "real" job or being "just" a mom, I usually remind them that previous generations of women fought for my choice to do whatever I want, and this is what I want!

  3. I know what you mean. I'm so tired of being looked down on for staying home. When they find out I have a masters degree and that I graduated with honors , they look at me like I've lost my mind. I have not lost my mind and I happen to like my mind set. I, unlike you, am quite out spoken and not shy at all. If pressed I tend to go on tyrants about how if more women raised their own kids and taught them morals and values instead of letting strangers do it, society would be so much better off. The other look I get is "poor thing. He must be so controlling to make her stay home." Or my all time favorite "Are you sure you want to do that. You know you're never going to be able to find a job when he's done with you." Not those exact words but the meaning is O SOO clear. No wonder divorce is so prevalent. Seems like women expect their husbands to leave them. Is it just a waiting game with them? I haven't bloged about it yet but I am going to start working part time on March 1st. I plan to work at least until I finish my Clinical Fellowship and get my certification. Then we are going to try to get pregnant and have babies. After I get pregnant I'm going to probably quit my job or maybe go down to PRN (work only when they call me). I plan to use my degree as a speech pathologist in the future, just not to get paid or to help support the family. That is my husbands job. As a certified speech pathologist I have the ability to work for myself which means I get to work on my terms. I plan to home school my kids and on days when they go to co-op classes I plan to volunteer at a catholic school so that kids with speech and language issues can still attend successfully. After all I don't want any kids to fall through the cracks. And I know how to work the public school system so that the kids going to the catholic schools still get public services. (See what I mean about the soap box). Back to the heart of the comment. When asked "Where are you working?" I look them dead in the eye and say "At home and I'm loving every minute of it and so is my husband."

  4. I haven't gotten the "what do you do" question, at least not in a long time. Generally, with 3 small children in tow and now with a belly announcing #4 on the way, the main comment I get is, "you sure have your hands full" and the main question I get is, "Are you going to stop after this one?" I despise that question, but I wrote a whole post about that ("The Contraceptive Mentality").

    If I did get asked, "What do you do?" my honest initial response is, "What don't I do? I cook, I clean, I chauffer, I comfort, I teach, I discipline, I pray, I play, I write, I snuggle, I do laundry, and, if all that wasn't impressive enough, occasionally I even help create life." "Mother" is the closest word I know to encompassing everything but in today's society, it is not a word with a universal understanding, so I'd hesitate to use it.

    I haven't quite gotten many homeschooling questions yet. Do I have to think about how to deal with those? I mean, really, aren't there enough reasons that support homeschooling as a more than reasonable option?

  5. When you start homeschooling and get that question you can use your college education as a reason. A college degree is a prerequisite to teaching in a school. In homeschooling you don't need a degree but just in case they change the laws, you are a huge step in that direction. Your major doesn't even have to apply to what your girls are learning. The fact that you have a degree will largely qualify you in the eyes of others to be an educator.

    If the individual shows concern for the socializing aspect of your children, you can always get them involved in playdates with other children from church or start a homeschoolers ... group. Check out Alice Gunther's book, "Haystack Full of Needles: A Catholic Home Educators Guide to Socialization". I read the whole thing after finding her blog:

    1. Focus on the positives.
    2. Act excited about it.
    3. Have all the wonderful benefits on hand to share.
    4. Cover your bases of concern people might show so they know you're not being careless but have a deep interest in your children's future.
    5. Know that many colleges have a special acceptance process for homeschoolers and that homeschoolers are accepted by the big universities.
    6. People get tired of hearing about the tragedies of public education (though it doesn't stop them from listening to them). Find a way to talk about public education without tearing it down.

    Hope this is helpful! I'm going to homeschool myself and I expect just as much resistance if not much more than I got for quitting my job to never return and my cloth diapering quest.

  6. I just say "I'm a full time Mom." Then I can go into details about my "career" or better yet vocation, if they ask. Usually though, that answer suffices and they either run the other way after seeing me and my "handful" (5 beautiful children) or they are genuinely interested and a good conversation begins.

  7. I enjoyed this post a lot. I think it's an amazing characteristic of our times that people expect themselves and others to be defined as human beings by sole aspects of human activity such as a job. I think it's made obvious how far we've drifted from the way God sees us. What we look like through His eyes is all about what's inside and in evereyday life we seem to completely overlook that.
    I was actually thinking last night that monastic life is so often underestimated and misjudged perhaps because of this. Nobody thinks the monastics actually "do" something. Same goes for every aspect of a christian life i suppose. Because it's usually hidden and unseen and takes place in the recesses of the heart.

  8. I just say, "I raise my child." That tends to shut them up! Or, if I'm in a better mood, "I spend my days looking out for this little guy." (I always have him on hand to demonstrate!)

  9. You can always put it in corporate terms: "I am on call 24/7 for two highly demanding bosses, for whom I am solely responsible."

    Or something like that...I'm not the most skilled at corporate-speak.


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