It seems like a perfectly reasonable question. It is completely innocent and is a socially acceptable way to make small talk. But for me, it causes an existential crisis each time it is uttered in my direction.
“So, what do you do?”
The answer that comes out of my mouth the most is ‘I’m a mom’. The other person then replies enthusiastically that that’s awesome and a really important job. They ask how old my kids are. When I say 23, 18, 16 and 10, I suddenly realize that I look like a woman of leisure who has two grown children and 40 hours of uninterrupted ‘me time’ each week while the younger two are in school. It probably conjures images of daytime TV, a really clean house, yoga classes and homemade dinners. Hell, I don’t know all that it conjures, but I need another title.
Sometimes the response to my answer is “You’re so lucky” and although I am grateful for what Dennis and I have built here, ‘Luck’ is a word that sticks going down. It played no part in the formation of our family structure and completely discounts tough decisions, necessity, certain limitations and, at times, deep and abiding frugality.
I choke on ‘Stay-at-Home Mom’, ‘Homeschool Mom’ and ‘Primary-Caretaker-Of-An-Adult-With-Developmental-Disabilities”. Those words all come with their own visual misreprentation of my messy, complicated, and busy days. If feel like I am all and none of of those things. The jagged intersection of the roles I play often confound me, so presenting them accurately to someone else in a social situation is nearly impossible.
Why can’t I just be a secretary or a barista? See how neatly that comes out?
I don’t devalue my current responsibilities, but I hear a silent conversation in my head.
‘I’m a mom’.
Yeah, me too. And I’m a secretary, barista, lawyer, teacher…
No, I don’t think everyone has this conversation. But I know some do.
I don’t want to fall into a habit of justifying what I am doing, or more apatly, what I am not doing. Which is work. Outside of my house. For money.
It is hard to leave it at that point. No one wants to hear about kids who are not easily served by a conventional school system. It is complicated to explain life without school. I do not wish to launch into a conversation about the flaws and failures of the world of adults with developmental disabilities which makes life, not just paid work, incredibly challenging.
One of the other harder facets of this issue is that I am not entirely happy or satisfied with my current circumstances. There is a part of me that would love to have a fulfilling career that provides a sense of accomplishment, not to mention how much we could use an additional paycheck. There are compelling and appealing parts of the work world that lie in stark contrast to how I live now. A change of scenary and a job title seem very attractive.
I have developed a skill over the years of rehearsing difficult conversations so that the next time they happen, I can develop satisfying responses. But this one has eluded me. I cannot find an honest, effective answer to what I do.
Nothing. Something. Everything.