So many ideas. All day long they present themselves. Every day. So many essays written. While walking down the sidewalk on the way to my class, while driving to an art gallery to drop off my photos, while standing in the shower letting the water wash over me, or, so often, while hiking in the woods across the hilly rustic trails on a beautiful day. In comparison, very few make it to the page. Maybe if I committed a much greater number of hours a day to my craft. Hhhm…? I like the sound of that. After all, I have so much time on my hands as I’m just a simple homemaker. (You’ll get the reference, and the sarcasm, in a moment….)
The latest prompt came this morning in my kitchen as I was preparing an early lunch. Homemade vegetable miso soup, with walnuts, black beans, and kombu. A p.b.j with freshly ground organic peanut butter, flax oil, St. Dalfour Red Rasperry & Pomegranate fruit spread, and French bread, made with just the basics. Add a mug of warm water to drink.
I moved about the kitchen, enjoying the domesticity, feeling relaxed, nowhere to be but there, in the kitchen, preparing my meal, and absorbing the lovely autumn day courtesy of the open window. The words came drifting in the room much like the breeze through the window.
“Is there something inherently wrong with being a homemaker?”
I cringed at that term just yesterday. I read it on a form that came in the mail. A summary of account information: Employment status: Homemaker. “Make corrections or add missing information in the Updates section…” I had a strong urge to change my “status”.
Actually my status has changed dramatically over the past 10 months. I have been analyzing and redefining and refining it almost daily. The form still sits unaltered on the kitchen table while my mind continues to chew on the term.
The thought, the prompt, leads me down a long long road. One I have been traveling, with a bit of unsteadiness, since December of last year. Initially all paths I turned towards seemed to have a sign at the corner that read, “Do you have a job?” I had spent the past 17 years raising children, with intermittent periods also spent employed part-time in my field. All of the sudden those past 17 years seemed to mean nothing to those I encountered. At first it was mostly friends who asked the question that made me feel inferior. Then a new person I would meet would utter the exact same phrase. Always the same triggering words, “Do you have a job?” Sometimes, “Do you work?” I would feel myself bristle. My defensed come up. I wanted to scream, “Is that all that defines my worth in your eyes?! Am I less of a person because I am not the one bringing home the pay check? Hell yes I work! I have the same job I’ve had for 17 years. You’ve never asked me that question before.” How about asking me, “How are you holding up emotionally now that your life, as you have known it for the past two decades, has been drastically altered?” There were many who had compassion and said things like, “It must be really hard for your family right now.” I know for most it’s easier to jump straight to the practical. It makes things a little less uncomfortable (for them that is). It’s a cultural thing. Do-you-have-a-job raised a lot of my own questions. It brought up insecurities in my own worth. It made me look at how our culture values people with dollar signs. That a value is put on a person based on his or her income or lack thereof. My tangible income had come through the hand of my husband. We shared the money. He practiced his trade Monday through Friday out in the “workforce”. My chosen career was mom, home-schooling parent, “home-maker”, family accountant, household manager. We agreed. He worked hard. I worked hard. He told the kids they were lucky that I stayed home with them and they were able to have an alternative educational experience.
After the split he was right there in line with the others, with a slight variation on the same theme. “When are you going to get a job? Have you found employment? You told me I wouldn’t have to worry about money!” What these words said to me, “You are worthless. All the time and energy you have put into the last 17 years mean nothing. What could you possibly be doing with your time if you aren’t earning an income?” I wasn’t able to draw unemployment. I had no sick leave or personal time. The deck seemed stacked against me. But I knew my job was to continue to raise my sons and to get started raising myself.
When asked the loaded question by a friend, an acquaintance, a stranger I would stammer and back-tread, coming up with some lengthy explanation of where I was on that path. All the time feeling unworthy, unloved, judged.
All of this brought on much exploration in the light of my strong reaction to the question. Why was this churning me up in such a big way?
Over time and with much introspective work, I came to understand that the only person I owed an explanation to was myself. The only person I needed to provide an answer, was me. How liberating! The voice that told me I had to answer, that it would be rude not to, was being challenged. Then, finally, I even came to the conclusion that I could just say no. (Thanks Nancy. I think she is the one who came up with that one.) Or, I could respond, “Tell me what your definition of job is, and I’ll tell you if I have one.” The come-backs are not meant to be trite, they are meant to throw it back in the face of the asker. To challenge our societal view of how we view each other through the skewed lens of money.
Now that some time has passed, it seems I rarely hear the question. Maybe my own insecurities were drawing the words out of the others.
I teach an exercise class. I earn money. At times, when I tell people what I do, they still ask (you guessed it) “Do you have a job?” Seems nothing will satisfy some people.
[I have so much more to say, and different angles on this topic. More on another day.]
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