My husband told me excitedly about a book by Hob Lipson, a robotics expert who predicts that within 100 years, technology will have made human work obsolete. "Why is that exciting?" I asked, horrified. "Where will people get their sense of purpose? What will make them get up in the morning?"
While we've all occasionally fantasized about living a life of total ease, in reality, it might grow dull very quickly. The fabulously wealthy on television don't seem particularly happy or satisfied; in fact, we seem to watch them mostly because it makes us feel better about going to work. Few people can truly imagine life without a vocation of some kind to structure their week.
This may seem an odd assertion coming from a housewife and full-time mother of two children who will soon enough leave the nest. People think I have it easy. Many started asking me, as soon as my youngest entered kindergarten, when I would return to the workforce. Between morning and afternoon carpool, I must be eating bonbons and watching soap operas! Surely I could find a more productive way to spend my time.
Well-meaning cashiers at the grocery store ask, "so, you have the day off of work today?" as they check out my purchases. I feel temporarily guilty that my husband makes enough money to give me this "leisure time", during which I clean the house, run errands, and yes, even read books and enjoy long walks. Just because some women work in stores or offices all day, and then cram in cleaning/cooking/parenting between the hours of 7-10 p.m., should I be doing that, too?
I left the workforce for full-time motherhood when we moved in 2001. Being new in town, and no longer having business cards to pass around, I ordered calling cards announcing my profession as "Chief Cook and Bottle-Washer." Whenever I had to fill out paperwork asking for my occupation, I never wrote "none". Instead, I wrote "full-time housewife and mother." I resented being asked. It made me question my identity, which had always been bound up in what I did all day at the office. It made me feel dependent upon my husband, rather than like part of a team.
Most of all, I despised the question, "Do you work?" to which I replied bitterly, "Very hard at home, thank you for asking."
I thought to myself, "A mother's job is never done. Don't feel defensive!" And yet I did feel defensive, for years, until finally, I didn't anymore. I felt proud. Proud to have made a conscious decision to devote myself to hearth and home, and to be productive in both housework and "me-time" during the day, so that afternoons and evenings could be spent energetically and enthusiastically tending to the ones I love the most.
Then just over a month ago we moved across the country, and once again the question began rearing its ugly head on paperwork: "Occupation?"
I hesitated. This seemingly simple question loomed like judgment day. My answer will tell me how comfortable I am with my life as it is, and set the tone for my future in this new city. Andrew is in high school now; in a few short years, Caitlin will follow. How much longer will I be a full-time mother and housewife? Is that how I want to be seen? Don't I need something else to focus on, a fresh start for this new phase in our lives?
"Writer," I wrote, uncomfortably.
Merriam-Webster defines occupation as: 'a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation; or a principal calling, vocation, or employment.' Though I am truly passionate about writing, it cannot be my principal calling while my children still live under my roof. I picked up the pen and scratched out my response.
"Full-time mother," I crammed into the tiny space that remained.
Just as there was only a small space to fit in those words, I have only a few short years left to enjoy this demanding and exhilerating full-time occupation. When the kids go off to college, maybe I will put "writer" on those forms. Maybe I will return to office work, or maybe not. For now, I will proudly declare to all who ask, "I work very hard at home -- thank you for asking."
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