Tuesday, August 5th, 2014...8:15 pm

Conversations I Thought I Was Done Having

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She was trimming my son’s hair when we struck up conversation. It was the forced kind of talking you do when silence is somewhat awkward and you think since you are two adults standing next to each other for the next thirty minutes you might as well talk to each other.

First we talked about our summer vacation. She also had been to Maine once upon a time to a town she couldn’t remember the name of. She was older, grandmotherly. She said she loved the beach and the mountains and how beautiful Maine is in the summer. Once that topic was exhausted we started talking about summer and pools and our favorite spots around town. Somehow we got to the fact that summer was ending soon and I said I would be going back to school.

“You’re a teacher?” she asked.

“Yes. I teach 9th and 11th grade and I’m the department chair at a local high school.”

“So you work?”

I thought I was done having this conversation. I thought it was a silly question, given what I had just told her, but I obliged.

“Yep. I’m a teacher.”

“Do you have to work?”

I hesitated. I wanted to pretend that I didn’t hear her or that I didn’t understand what she meant. I didn’t want to wade through this conversation with a stranger as she held scissors over my three-year-old’s head.

“I guess I do. But I mostly work because I love my job. I wouldn’t want to stay home.”

“Oh,” she observed quietly as she snipped away more of his overgrown curls. “Most of the moms we get in here are stay at home moms. They don’t work. They’re just always with their children. You know, because they’re little like this,” she concluded as she pointed to my own little one.

“I work.” I said, matter of-factly. No apologies.

“I stayed home when my kids were little,” she added. She said it nonchalantly. I couldn’t tell if she was wistfully remembering her stay-at-home mom days or wishing she had made different choices.

She wasn’t being mean, or at least I don’t think she was intentionally being mean, but these are sensitive questions. There’s a whole lot of subtext and assumption in the “Do you have to work?” question.

“I work,” I said again.

It’s been a long road to that confident declaration. Had I stood in that same spot four years ago, had she said that to me when I was still struggling with my own motherhood identity, I would have held in tears until I got us all buckled safely in the car. I would have thought about her words, let them seep into my consciousness, let them force me to question my choices, undermine my confidence.

But here I am, six years into this working mom thing, and I can say with confidence that this is who I am. This is how I like it. This is how it works best for me. I can listen to her questions and read her subtext and walk out of the store surprised by her boldness, but no worse the wear for her tacit judgment.

Maybe I should have called her out on her subtle rudeness so that when a mom less far along on her journey unknowingly steps into this trap she’ll think twice before judging. Maybe I should have asked her personal questions about her financial situation or personal happiness. Maybe I should have ignored the comment altogether and not let her bait me further into the conversation.

Or maybe I should have told her what I’ve come to realize over the six years I’ve been a mother: we all make the choices that fit our families best. Those choices don’t look the same. They don’t feel the same. I’m a mother doing the best I can. Don’t we owe it to other moms just to assume they are doing the same?

Conversations I Thought I Was Done Having

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  • A friend of mine recently had her first baby and was heading back to work after 12 weeks of maternity leave. I could tell she was feeling a little conflicted about it (as I think most moms do), so I told her the truth: while it might be hard to leave your infant (or toddler, or preschooler) in someone else’s care, it’s also hard to stay at home with a baby all day, too. It annoys me that moms judge other moms for working (or not working), when we should be more concerned about helping each other make it work in either situation.
    Julia recently posted…Adventures in Baby FoodMy Profile

  • Yes, Julia. Let’s all help each other make it work. No choice in parenting is easy. We all just make the ones that feel right.

  • Amen. Only I usually get the well meaning, “So you’re not using your degree?”
    Michelle recently posted…So, Toledo Was Fun This Weekend.My Profile

  • Then there are the in-betweeners. I’m not really a stay-at-home-mom even though I am a mom who stays at home. I have my own business, and just try explaining that to the kids when they want to go the pool, and I appear to be “playing around” with some images in Photoshop.

  • Ugh! Remind me never to take my kids to that hairdresser! Annoying judgemental moms judging other people… sheesh…

  • I read this as I sit patiently awaiting the nearly two year old little buddy-roo I have taken care of since he was a bobble-headed two month old when his crying mama left her most precious heart in my arms as she stumbled out the door on her way back to her teaching job at a local high school. She chose what she felt was the only choice she had and I am grateful that there are moms who trust me enough to leave their most beloved beings with me all day while they keep other of the world’s wheels turning. I couldn’t love Wyatt more if he had been born of my loins instead of my heart-it must be unquestionably hard for his mother to work in order to meet her family’s needs.

    Meet the gorgeous young soul by clicking on that “teach them young” link just below–he’s a rare and wonderful human being on his way to becoming a great glorious man.
    Lynda M Otvos recently posted…Teach Them Young and Hope It SticksMy Profile

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