We were at my husband’s high school reunion. It’s been twenty years since he made headlines in the local newspaper for wearing sunglasses while giving his commencement speech.
My name tag read Mary [Not My Legal Last Name Because I Felt Strongly About Keeping My Maiden Name]. I smiled blandly at lots of people that I didn’t know and had heard hardly anything about. I shook hands and laughed politely at little jokes. And then it happened.
“So,” she said, “What do you do?”
It’s such an innocuous question. Much like, “How’s it going?” Most times, you don’t expect the respondent to launch into their life story, give you a detailed medical history, or share their actual feelings. What you expect is for the person to say: “Just fine. How are you?”
It’s classic small talk. The response to the question “What do you do?” is to simply give the person the label you’ve accepted and then ask them for their label.
But I didn’t know what to say.
The label I have accepted is not recognized as vernacular much less is it a vocabulary word.
I’m in the midst of a full-blown identity crisis. Dropping the word “Career” from “Woman” has been a daunting adjustment.
A little self-indulgent, self-analysis here … this blog is, for me, like therapy without the group. Writing helps me clarify my thoughts and when I post an excerpt from my life I am instantly gratified with the sense of having accomplished something, however small. It’s as though I’m pretending that raising my kids isn’t gratifying enough, that being entrusted with their lives isn’t responsibility enough, that shaping their characters isn’t the greatest challenge I have ever faced.
It’s as though I am trying to preserve some part of myself under the guise of chronicling my kids’ lives. How very humbling that is to see that in print.
“I, uh, I,” I stammered. “Actually, I, uh, just left my job…” and my words were trampled by someone else who thankfully interrupted our exchange to squeal over how much so-and-so had changed and how good it was to see her.
I felt ashamed of myself. Why didn’t I feel proud about my choice? For the rest of the evening I managed to avoid small talk in this direction and thought about ways that I should have responded when prompted.
Next time someone asks that question I’m going to tell them: “I’m on a semi-permanent sabbatical from my job so that I can try to enjoy the kids I chose to produce.”
Yeah. I’m still working on it.