Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Just what do you think I do all day? or better yet: Do you care?

It never fails to amaze me that people who work at a job outside or from their homes seem to think that women who stay at home with their children don't do work. Kelly's personal blog and her website, Underbellie, have recently dealt with domestic work (meaning the work of raising children and of caring for the home and all that that entails) and how it is undervalued or not even valued at all by those who choose to focus on a career other than/in addition to parenting and care of one's children. I can see this in my own husband, who has voiced on various occasions his astonishment that so little seemed to get done that day while he was gone, and I can see that in other women I know from various places. Tonight I kind of had a moment of "this person really doesn't get it" while I was at Maeve's Girl Scout awards ceremony.

One of the moms, K.N., is a co-leader of the troop but she's involved in such a way that makes me wonder why she bothers to be involved at all. The first couple of meetings that I went to I saw that she spent far more time talking to the other moms who were there than running the meeting (she left that up to the other leader who, in army parlance, is far more squared away than K.N. is) and recently I saw that when the other leader wasn't there, K.N. has really got a difficult time running things. Maybe it's because she's disorganized, maybe it's because she has a lack of experience in this area, I don't know. I just know that every time she runs the meeting by herself I want to take over and do it for her. Anyway, K.N. knows that I sew and I have done sewing for the girls in the troop - sewing badges on their uniforms and such - for a minimal fee. I don't really want to take money for it because it takes very little time to do, but it makes them feel better and it compensates me.

Earlier in the year, K.N. and another mother both asked me if I did alterations to clothing. I said yes a bit hesitantly because it's not my idea of fun. I like to sew because it is fun. Altering someone else's RTW garments I don't really find to be a good time. I have hemmed a pair of uniform pants for a friend of Scott's and I've sewn on insignia to uniforms when needed at the last minute. But I'm not into taking apart a pair of pants in order to take in a seam because you've lost weight in your backside. Sorry, there are tailors for that. Of course when I said 'yes' K.N. and the other mom immediately wanted to know if I would do alterations for them and how much I would charge. I named a price - I think I said $15 - and K.N. said "Really? Because the tailor charges $12". At this point I wanted to smack her. I have no idea what people charge to hem pants, as I hem my own. But I do that on my time. The tailor has a business and can afford to charge a bit less because s/he has a bigger clientele and because that's what s/he spends 8 hours a day doing. I don't spend 8 hours a day doing alterations - I have other things I do during the day. If you want me to take time out of my free time to sew your clothes you're going to have to compensate me accordingly. What I said to her was, "Then you probably should take them to the tailor. I'm really busy right now with other things." This didn't deter her from asking once or twice more but she finally stopped asking.

Tonight K.N. asked me if I wanted to work at home and I said. "I already do." She looked at me with a puzzled expression, so I elaborated, "I have the 3 year-old and the baby." She said, "I mean if you want to do some extra work - make some extra money." Really? Extra work? Oh yes, let me jump right on that. Because, really, I don't have enough to do already and I so want to fill up any empty minutes that I have for myself doing work for someone else. And extra money? Yeah, because someone pays me to do all the laundry and housework that I currently do. I'm thinking this and she keeps going, "Do you do computer work?" "Um, no." And I really don't want to. "Well what about writing, can you write?" Huh? I'm going to pretend she didn't say that. "Yes, I can write. Like what?" "Well because you know I have my own business. Advertising, that sort of thing." " I don't know. I don't have any experience in that." "Well, I mean, if you can write then you should be able to...what did you say you went to college for?" Now I really want to smack her, and hard. "K.N., I have a Master's Degree in French Literature. I'm not sure that qualifies me to do what you require but I am pretty busy." "French? Oh, wow. I love French. Not that I speak it. But you know, I really love the way it sounds." Uh-huh. Me too. But your loving it doesn't make me want to do work for you any more than I did prior to knowing that. "Well, think about it, Jen." Right, I'll keep that in mind. Because I really want to do work for someone who clearly doesn't think what I do already is work.

Which brings me to Kelly's blog posts about how much value we place on those jobs like housework and child-rearing that are uncompensated and seemingly never-ending. K.N. has been working at her career for a long time. She's in her early 50's and didn't start having kids until she was almost 40. Her career was probably well-established enough that she's always had her girls in day care. And I get the feeling that she doesn't have the greatest rapport with her kids. I mean, I think she wants to and she may even think that she does, but I've seen the way the kids act toward her and I have to wonder... Anyway, I don't think she gets the whole concept of being an at-home mom without an outside career, and she obviously doesn't think of it as REAL work.

My sister-in-law, K.L., is the same way in some respects. She has a career as a medical provider, though she's currently between jobs. Her girls have always been in some kind of day care, whether it's a sitter in the home or in a group day care center. Even when she's not working, her kids go to some kind of an organized day program, unless she has something extra planned for them (a trip to the zoo, visit to grandma's - whatever). And when they aren't at an organized program, there is almost always some kind of planned activity going on. There's almost never any kind of free-flowing schedule and almost never any down time. When we go to visit them I feel like I'm being shunted from one activity to the next without a moment to breathe. I wonder: does she do it to tire them out so that they'll go to sleep and not bother her in the evening? Further, this flurry of activity makes me wonder if she doesn't know how to just be with her kids, since they've spent so much of their young lives with other care givers. Or is it that she's so used to not being with them that she doesn't have the same attachment that I do to my kids? I'm not attempting to pass judgement, merely trying to understand what motivates her.

This sort of nonstop 'busy-ness' is not limited to the children. We're supposed to go to visit K.L. and her daughters this weekend and already she has tons planned so that there won't be a moment of inactive time, including getting a babysitter so that there is time for just me and her to go out - something that I don't feel the need to do. She's purchased tickets to a comedy show (something I'm not really interested in going to); around that I think she has planned for us to go to an arts festival and possibly even dinner. I drew the line when she wanted to include a pedicure. (The last time we went to have one done it was just about one of the least relaxing things I've ever done, mostly because the people at the nail place took a bunch of walk-ins right before our appointment and then we had to wait around the mall for an hour because they kept taking walk-ins and not calling us, which caused K.L. to get all pissy with the Korean woman running the nail place, so the Korean woman got bitchy with her and it was just ridiculous.) She claims that I need to go out and "get away" from my kids. In fact, when my mother in law is there, she often wants to take the children so I can go shopping alone. (P.S. - I don't like to go shopping alone. It's boring. And lonely.) It's like they want to force me away from my kids, as though they think I need their help to do this. News flash: I don't need to be rescued from my kids! They are not a drag and being with them every day for most of the day is not a burden! Yes, I have moments when Scott is gone for extended periods of time and I would like a little help with them, just to make it easier. But I love being with them and watching them grow and learn and just be themselves. At the end of the day I don't need to escape them. And taking them from me so that I can go 'do something' when I'm in a city that I don't live in, in a home that isn't mine so I have none of my sewing with me, is pointless. Unless you're coming to my house and taking them out to the playground so that I can sew at home, I really don't need the help.

I once said to her that I don't know how to go out with adults and not be with my kids anymore. The fact is, I'm not interested in it. My job is a 24/7 job and I don't mind that. I didn't tell her that I didn't want to go out, because I figure that there must be some reason that she feels compelled to go out with me. I mean, she could just as easily have made plans to go out with a girlfriend on a different night, when the kids are with their dad. I do plan to confront her about this, since I'm tired of her pitying me or whatever it is. We're different people, she and I. I respect that she has a career in medicine. I don't always understand her choices but I'm not in her shoes. I just wish that K.L. and all of the others like her would respect the career that is parenting and treat it as a choice, not as a punishment. I don't expect her to understand it. But I do expect her to respect it.


  1. I agree! I am having a really little teeny tiny job, it's 22,5 hrs/month. And I have not yet had one month since January where I actually made it. I have this job because I wanted it and they -to my surprise- took me. But it is really hard to squeeze it in!

  2. Jen...I read your posts...go away..compose an answer and then forget to write it.
    I have a friend who has an Au Pair for her two children...she spent a long time, when my girls were little, telling me I should get an Au Pair...Asking when I was planning to stop breast feeding them!? It was such a chore for me! Eventually it sank in that I wanted to continue feeding them and that I quite enjoyed looking after them...far easier than constantly showing someone else how to do things!
    I was reminded about this post when a friend asked me to hem 4 pairs of jeans for her Dad....his company makes wonderful moisturiser...a jar of face cream is to be my money will change choice..better than haggling over money. It is more of a favour that way...I don't do many of them though.