Sunday, September 21, 2014

Time and space

She sat across from me at the dining room table, sipping coffee.

Exactly thirty-five minutes and thirty-seven seconds earlier we had kept pace along a three-mile loop through the rainy streets outside my front door. Ordinarily I would have run the course alone or not at all.

This was a treat. Another mother, with an hour of time to spare between trips to the bus stop, was actually in my house. Drinking coffee ... after a run.

Inwardly, I was giddy. Outwardly, I was stone.

I didn't want to seem too eager. (I'd already made that mistake with the Jehovah's Witnesses, who now visit once a month.)

The last thing I wanted to do was scare her off. Aside from my new Witness friends, it had been ages since I'd had another adult human to talk with during the day. Besides the brief pleasantries with the man selling stamps at the post office and the how-do-you-dos with the ladies behind the glass at the bank, I barely used my voice between the hours of 8 and 3.

But there she was. My friend. The newest member of the team we hadn't expected to join.

The unemployed.

No. That's not the right word. That word implies something else. Something negative. Something tinged with desperation. Something put upon us like a weight.

The stay-at-home moms. The housewives. Chief cook and bottle washers.

Even worse. We are none of those things … and yet, we are all of them.

We hate labels and stereotypes, so we try to coin new ones.

Domestic goddesses. Cough, sputter, retch.

We join a gym. We go at off-peak hours and get our pick of the machines.

We talk about play dates, school lunches and bake sales. We complain about how hard it is to lose those extra pounds as we hike side-by-side on the treadmills.

Oh sure, we call them dreadmills, but we secretly think they are the highlight of our day.

A day that increasingly revolves around prioritizing the things we had previously deemed the least of our worries.

Sorry, can't today. I'd planned to dust the ceiling fans and mop the floors.”

When someone asks us what we do, we hesitate for a second. … We make it known that we work at something that doesn't always pay us in money, and we imply that we work harder than ever before. Few of us feel like we actually do.

Some of us are grateful, some of us feel guilty.

I ask her to decide which category she falls into without thinking.

So, how's it going?”

It's all so new right now, but I'm really enjoying it.”

I still can't wrap my head around it,” I tell her, wishing I could just smile and nod.

But it's all I think about, despite the three-years' worth of practice.

Suddenly, there doesn't seem to be enough hours in the day for laundry and dishes and homework and chores. Doctors' appointments, dance lessons, soccer practice and the part-time-job you took just to keep in practice.

And then there are the what-ifs …

What if he loses his job?

What if he dies?

What happens then?

I could tell from her expression that I was talking aloud.

I apologize profusely.

I know more than anyone that doesn't have to be this way. That dividing up into opposing teams isn't really a good way to play this game. Title or no title. Label or no label, we haven't become different people. We just have different schedules.

Another cup of coffee?”

Sure, what-the-heck. Laundry can wait.”

The hour stretches into two. We still have time.

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