Monday, January 09, 2006

"So, What Do You Do?"

This is often one of the first questions adult Americans ask each other when they are first introduced in a social setting. Maybe it's the same in other countries, I don't know. It's an obvious enough question to ask, and I guess it's a good way to get conversation going if you can't think of anything else to say. Maybe we think this is a way to get to know about someone else's interests; that someone's work or career can tell you a lot about who they are. Much of the time I don't think this is true. While there are people who would gladly do the work they love for free (I used to feel this way about acting, and thank goodness I was willing to do it for free because who was going to pay me?) most people do the work they do because they need to make a living. Maybe they came into that career by way of some other work they used to love but maybe it didn't pay as well, or pan out like they thought. Or maybe someone had an opportunity for them when they were out of work and they took it and found themselves still doing that same thing 20 years later? Maybe it's kind of related to what they always wanted to do, but not exactly. Whatever we do, however we get there, we usually have a paycheck to look forward to that helps us to provide for the things we need to live. If we enjoy what we do, then all the better. But do our jobs even loosely define us? Perhaps asking about someone else's interests outside of work would be a better way of getting to know them. Or is that too personal a topic for a first meeting? Maybe we're just all trying to be polite and really don't want to know anything about the other person that is significant? I'm not saying I know, I'm just trying to figure this out.

I ask because I was at a friend's house for a party a little while back and there were a lot of people about my age to whom I was introduced. I was already acquainted with some of the people and they knew I was a full time mom so they didn't ask me what I "did". But every person who I met for the first time asked me almost immediately what I "did" . And when you stay at home with your kids this becomes an entirely different question to have to answer. First off the thing you notice is people don't usually ask, "What do you do for work" they just ask "What do you do?" and of course you know that they mean:"What is the job that you do to make money?" I used to get asked this question when I worked outside of the house and I'd prattle on a little about the details of my work and sometimes people were kind of interested, and sometimes not and depending on what I was doing at the time for work I would get different questions. I didn't particularly ever care to talk much about work (especially while I was off the clock) but hey, if someone cares enough to ask, I should talk about it a little, right? And why on earth should someone ask that question unless they are truly curious about what you do? Well, the irony here is that now that I'm doing something I love- being with the most important people in my life, trying to raise them right, trying to show them that there is love in the world, despite all the ugly, crazy things people do, now that I finally have something to talk about, stories that would make you laugh and cry in the same minute, something I can share with enthusiasm, experience, and knowledge (however little) and above all with heart- no one really wants to hear about it.

Of course there are people in my life who care about what I do. But someone who doesn't know a thing about me, only my first name and what I look like, asks me what I do and I tell them I'm a full time mom and then they smile weakly and go, "Oh?" and that's that. No more questions. I would say about 8 times out of 10 this is the reaction I get. The other 2 are from folks like me who are there, or who have been there. They get it and I don't need to tell them what I do because they already know. I never ask people what they do anymore. If someone is excited about their work and they want to tell me all about it, then cool! I'm happy to hear that other people enjoy what they do; They should.

And I do. And it doesn't matter a lick if no one else in the whole world cared a bit about what I did. Yeah, it makes you feel like a little like an outcast, and I can't help but wonder what these people meeting me are thinking:

"Oh, she must be wealthy to be able to afford to stay home." -Are these the clothes and hair style of a wealthy woman?
"Maybe she can't get work"-Maybe I just adore the little buggers and can't bear to be away from them.
"Perhaps she's just lazy"-Clearly you have never spent time with children!

Anyway, I really don't presume to know what others are thinking about me. On a good day I give everyone the benefit of the doubt. On a bad day it feels the world is out to get me. I'm curious though what reactions other stay-at-home-parents get from strangers. And how do you respond, or should I say...what do you do?

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