Sunday, October 06, 2013

Identity crisis

The question left me momentarily speechless.

My shoes were off, my clothes were folded neatly on a chair and the woman reading off the bullet points on my chart had seen a big old blank next to “occupation.”

So she filled it in, I can only assume, by tearing a page out of the script for “Mad Men.”

“Sooooo …. You're a housewife?”

Housewife? Did she say HOUSEWIFE?

Honestly? She could have told me I'd sprouted a second head that required immediate amputation, and I'd have been less shocked.

The dictionary describes “housewife” in its first definition as a married woman who stays at home, does cleaning, cooking, childrearing, gardening, sewing, manages household accounts and generally refrains from paid employment outside the domicile.

That's not me.

OK … well it kind of is, since I do most of those things (excepting that last one).

In its second definition, the dictionary explains a “housewife” as a needle case or small sewing kit. Basically a thing you send your sailor off to sea with so he can mend his own darn socks.

Ugh! Another moment in life when a person's identity doesn't fit neatly in a four-inch gap in an application form.

So there I was, blood pressure cuff on, waiting to explode.

“You know … my husband puts “self employed” on his questionnaires and no one ever asks him if he's a househusband.”

Of course that term – Househusband – only came into being in the 1970s as a putdown describing a married, graduate student whose wife's skills and salary exceeded his own.

I know this is my own battle.

This isn't about a word use. It's about identity crisis.

My jobs are old-school in a new economy. They are part-time and flexible. They fit around the kids and dog and the personal needs of other people. They no longer supersede them.

I am a mom. A wife. A writer. An editor. A photographer. And I do all the same things at home now that I did and home when I worked in an office for someone else: I sweep floors, do laundry, accompany children to doctors' appointments and occasionally cook inedible meals.

And, it's true, I have picked up some new jobs out of necessity. For instance, I mow the front lawn and take out the trash. Duties that, I'm told, in a traditional household would be performed by the “breadwinner.”

Who's got time to wait?

She apologized for treading on my landmine.

I accepted her apology, but I didn't feel better.

It wasn't her fault. Salt in a wound ...

Thing is … I did feel a little better when my kids got out of school later in the day and gave me my just desserts as I met the bus.

Of course, my son pestered me for the 57th time to sign him up for the after-school program his sister attended when I worked full time. And as icing on the cake, my daughter asked if I liked being a “stay-at-home-mom.”

And then it occurs to me what's really bothered me.

“You know … I don't stay here when you're at school right?”

They were stunned …

They had the same vacant stare that glazes their faces when they see their teachers at the grocery store.

“What? You're not home!!!!”

I'm not a stay-at-home-mom, I'm a work-from-home freelance journalist who gets in twitter fights and burns water but who is reachable by cell phone.

What? It's a thing.

Go ahead, look it up.


Evelyn said...

Awesome. Sing it, sister! (I won't say "preach it, brother" because then that would open up the whole boys preach; girls sing thang. But anywho.) What I'm curious to know is, how many of the young'uns' eyes will totally miss the 'darn socks' wordplay?

Gail at Large said...

We need a new term... maybe I can find one in Portuguese.