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Monday, April 06, 2009

When We Grow Up

children mentioned and seen...

A few weeks ago, the ChickieNob* asked me if girls were allowed to work. After sputtering around for a minute, I said, "of course!" And she gave a sigh of relief and said, "oh, good, I just wanted to make sure I could get the job of president."


I said, "I have a job; I work. So, of course, women can work."

She couldn't name what I do. To be fair, she couldn't really name what Josh did either. And it dawned on me that she has never observed me work, though she has visited Josh many times at his office. Her sole understanding of what I did consisted of cleaning, cooking, making candy that she wanted to eat but that I give away to others like the bitch I am, and reading Oliver and Amanda stories. She has only seen me in this one role.

While we still have a lot of time to introduce her to female empowerment, I thought it was detrimental that she never saw me in action. And, then again, do I really want her standing all Children-of-the-Corn, inches from my elbow, while I type up articles? Even the ones that do not involve reproductive organs?

And at the same time, how much responsibility do parents have to mirror the plethora of choices in the world? Being a mother is a job; she has seen me doing this role of caregiver. I certainly can't be every profession in the world simultaneously, so regardless of what I show her, she can always assume limitations in what she doesn't see. Or, not notice those limitations at all.

Perhaps I'm just worried because she asked if girls were allowed to work. Is it commentary on her lack of exposure to women in the workplace or simply a question that is on her mind because she is a girl and regardless of what she has observed, perhaps she simply wants confirmation that she will be able to get a job too if she wants one. She has a tendency to ask questions where she clearly knows the answer.

But, regardless, it is a wake-up call to how much they absorb--the things we say and do, but also, what they perceive written between the lines. I have thought long and hard about how I present ideas on beauty and body image, but I haven't really thought about things like drawing self-esteem from work.

It gives me pause; how much what she observes is shaping her--even more than what I say. I can tell her that she can be anything she wants to be, but if she only sees me bleaching and scrubbing, what is the subtext that she is taking from that conversation? Will she be able to comprehend that it was a choice to stay home and fit my job around their schedule--a choice with side effects that I must own as well, but a choice that works best for me and the family? That it could have been otherwise; that until I was faced with the prospect of not having a family, I would have possibly made a different choice. Who knows because you can only speak to the path taken.

I work this strange job that fits in the folds and bends around their day. I feel like I slip my job into tight crevices, taking minutes here and there. I hit every deadline; I rarely need to ask for an extension. But because my job is so malleable, it sometimes feels like it doesn't exist. I have done such a good job spreading it into time that no one else needs, that it has become almost hidden. It is blending in with the walls.

You know, to the point that my own daughter doesn't know that I work.

I showed her the book and some articles and explained that I write. That it's my job, as strange as it sounds. But that not everything I write is for work. I write blog posts and letters that are not part of my job. "How do you know what is for work?" she asked. I just do. I just know when the words are going to be compensated with money and when they're going to be compensated with love or friendship or community.

And I showed her some of Josh's stuff and I explained that he writes. That her parents both write stuff. And people pay us to do so. But we also write and don't get paid. Because it is what we love to do. That she should find a job she loves.

Before we get up in arms and insist that being a stay-at-home mum is a job and yank out that popular email forward stating what a SAHM would be paid if she worked outside the home, I want to disarm. I am on your side. I've already stated above that being a mother is a job. It is certainly my career and I care about it more than I do my paid work (um...people who pay me, don't take that the wrong way). My greatest sense of accomplishment this month--the moment where I was most proud of myself--came as I packed my final mishloach manot box and stacked it next to the wall to be taken to the post office. At the end of my life, I have a feeling that I will care more about what I've accomplished in my home, family, marriage than what I have accomplished outside the home. That is just me.

But when the ChickieNob asks about work, she asks about it in the most simplistic sense of the word--an exchange of goods for services. And I don't do this job in the home to be paid. I do it because I love it. And when you love something, you are willing to do it regardless of whether you get paid. I would still write even if all the freelance work dries up. It is something I love too. And I do write--in this space--without being paid.

If I didn't work at all, I would have no strange feelings about my daughter only seeing me cleaning and cooking. What strikes me is that I do work, but I have tucked it so far out of sight that they had no clue the job even existed. I guess that is the crux of this: why have I hidden the fact that I work from my kids and not shared it with them? And yet, I am trying to teach my child balance just as my mother taught me balance--between home and work and volunteering and friendships. That it is all a high wire act and no one should be tipping too far in any direction lest they fall off.


The ChickieNob has not stopped asking me what I want to be when I grow up, even knowing now about my job. I answer her truthfully, telling her ideas I have for a cake decorating business or job I want on the NIH campus or how I'll probably reinvent myself as a librarian at some point. I tell her that I want us to move to Smith Island for a year and write a book from there. I tell her that I want to go back to teaching. I tell her that I've considered becoming a dentist. That I want to be a professional hand-holder, coming with people to difficult appointments and just being there for them emotionally. I tell her that I've already found what I want to do--I want to be a writer.

So I'm letting her now as you. What do you want to be when you grow up? No job is too outlandish, too unattainable, or requires too many degrees.

And because I love They Might Be Giants:

*The Wolvog doesn't really have these deep considerations about his future. He has informed me that he will be the CEO of Apple, and only the CEO of Apple. He will own an iPhone and a Mac. He will also have a Dell; a very tall, thin house with a kitchen on the top floor; and will build said house next to our house so I can come over and make all of his food because he doesn't know how to use a stove. He doesn't need to consider other options when he has already come up with the ultimate plan. Must be nice to have that much confidence and direction at age four.


Jen said...

I like the Wolvog's plan. Fancy job and a fancy house, but with your mommy close enough to still take care of you.

areyoukiddingme said...

I think the Wolvog's plan must be hardwired into that Y chromosome. My BIL lives 5 minutes from his mom and is over there eating several times a week, even after he got married last summer.

Anyway, it sounds like the Chickienob may be equating work with something you don't want to do. I believe you've mentioned that they go to preschool, and they must certainly have teachers who are, statistically speaking, probably women. She hasn't processed that those teachers are working - she probably just sees them as hanging out and playing with her. Having a good time. Dad has to go someplace else during the day and can't hang out and play with her...therefore, that's work.

I don't think it's about empowerment, I think it's about enjoyment.

Carrie27 said...

That's a great lesson that you are teaching your children. Find what you love, no matter how little you may get paid. It's all about the big picture. Raising your children is what you love the most and that is the most rewarding, even without a paycheck. I hope to show my children that it is not about the amount of money you receive but where you find joy.

Beautiful Mess said...

Wolvog sounds just like Zilla. Zilla always says he's going to live in a house by me so I can help him "do things". He'll be a fireman, police officer and a ninja. I love that Chickienob asked you that question. It has SO much meaning, yet to her it was so simple. Nae and I have her future all figured out. She wants to be a pediatric heart surgeon so she can help babies. She's going to pay for her college with a full ride volleyball scholarship. Sounds like a good plan to me.

I think I want to be a vet tech when I grow up. It sounds so "simple", but I think it would be amazing! I'm always changing my mind on what I want to be when I grow up, though. I'm sure it'll change soon.

LJ said...

I want a macbook pro when Wolvog gets the CEO gig...

Raggedy Ann said...

These things really do get us thinking and I do so love thinking about the world through the eyes of children. I worry because my son wants to be a teacher because that's what his parents are. Teaching is not what you want to do in this country (Portugal), believe me. Then he's always asking if teachers make big bucks. No, not really. Although it beats being a garbage man, which was his dream some years ago. I like the way the Wolvog thinks.

Clare said...

It took me ages to figure out what I wanted to be. But once I started teaching to fund my law-school, I realised that I was a born teacher. I changed my career path and I absolutely love teaching. Although I think 'what do you want to be when you grow up' is quite limiting. I hope I get to try a variety of jobs in my lifetime, or what they now call a 'portfolio career', very much like what you wrote Melissa. Teacher, writer, school director, marine biologist and I'd love to add mother to that list!

Definitely share your writing your kids, it might inspire them to write too!

gwinne said...

Interesting. My daughter, who is five, is very interested in my work right now. She's known for a long time *where* I work, but she's just beginning to wrap her head around what I do. If you ask, she'll tell you her mother "teaches poems." But she really has no clue what a poem is :)

Kymberli said...

Veerrry good question. If I could "reinvent" myself I'd be an infertility and grief counselor or an RE. I love my work as a teacher; it is something I've always wanted to do and was a goal that I had set for myself even as a child. The root for those "wish I could" career shifts stems from "if I had known then what I know now."

Yet another great post, and one that has me thinking. As a working mom (out of the home) with a stay-at-home hubby, I wonder how our family choices are molding our children. I know that it's having a positive impact, but I wonder how this particular upbringing will shape their impressions of and goals for their futures.

A Mom in Jacksonville, FL said...

Thank you for your post. Makes me want to have a conversation with my daughter (who knows DH and I both work, as she attends preschool/daycare on a daily basis and has since a young age,) to confirm the importance of finding things you are passionate about and believe in.

Nicole said...

While I don't have any kiddos now, I know without a doubt that I agree with you, Mel: At the end of my life, I have a feeling that I will care more about what I've accomplished in my home, family, marriage than what I have accomplished outside the home. That is just me.

This is EXACTLY me and I applaud you for knowing this and sharing it!

Hillary said...

Well, my "of course" answer is I want to be a SAHM.

But if I had the time, degrees, money, or smarts I'd love to be a waitress, a nurse, own and run a tea house, or own and run a bed and breakfast.

That was fun to dream, thank you. :)

Emmy said...

Since you mention that Chickienob often asks questions she already knows the answers to, it makes me think that this question was also asked for validation. I feel like the question might have really been more along the lines of, "Is it okay with you if I work?" I'm sure she's encountered women working nearly everywhere she goes!

As they get older and more independent, they'll see you working more. They will understand that staying home was a choice for you, because you will tell them when they ask.

And, how lucky are your kids that they have a mom who can be a full-time mom AND work a job that she loves without the kids noticing. That speaks volumes for your ability to balance things!

When I grow up, I want to be a mom. That's always been my answer. I just hope it comes true some day.

In Due Time said...

A often ask me if I work. I tell her I work on the computer. I don't do my packing/shipping until she's asleep, so she doesn't see that part. But, she knows in the mornings when we have packages by the door, I need to take them to the mailbox or post office.

My dream job, and only dream job, is to be a mother. Although it doesn't require any degrees on my part, after almost five years of TTC it almost seems outlandish and unattainable.

eden said...

Hmmmm, I ask that question a lot.

And still don't know the answer!

Fertilized said...

I love the Contrast of the two children's responses.

When I grow up, I want a cupcake business.

luna said...

this is a wonderful post. so interesting their perspectives. I have to say I do like the wolvog's plan. smart boy. knows his toys too. and I love the chickienob's curiosity and wonder. quite the little ponderer, she is.

Queenie. . . said...

I think you've touched upon something very important--not only the idea that your children should know that you work and have managed your life in a way that allows you to work and be with them, but also that they should learn from you the high wire act of balancing all aspects of their lives. That's such an important thing.

As for your question "What do you want to be when you grow up? No job is too outlandish, too unattainable, or requires too many degrees"--that is JUST the assignment that my expensive career counselor has me pondering this week. I could just be paying you!

Artblog said...

Really sweet post :)

You know, I remember that my mum was a mom just like you and I still carved out a career for myself even though all I saw her do was, as you so cutely say, "bleaching and scrubbing" :)

She is also a mean cook too so I have nothing but good memories and somehow that's why its now important to me to to leave my kids with the same homely memories of a clean, tidy house and home made hot food on the table and she loves that's its me who fetches her from school "not like her friends who go home with the nanny".

It's all good either way and she'll find what suits her best eventually. She sounds adorable anyhow, so cute to ask such questions.


infertilityrocks said...

Kids fill in the blanks of the world they don't see. It's so fun to watch them color it in.

I'm extraordinarily blessed in my career. I'm a therapist who currently works with kids and teens. I set my own schedule and adore what I do, however draining it is at times.

My son knows I go to work but has no idea what the heck that means. He also know daddy goes to work, but I think he believe my dh works at the RE's office parking lot, because that is where we meet up with him on his lunch hour so I can go to an appointment.

My dream job will be to work with infertility/loss once my own journey is over.

Either that or to be Mel, Stirrup Goddess and Writer Extraordinaire.

Kristin said...

Wolvog really has it all planned out, doesn't he?

I think you handled Chickienob's question well.

When I grow up I want to be a successful cross stitch designer, an Er doc, a high risk OB,and, ummm, maybe that's it.

Io said...

I'm STILL not sure exactly what my dad did.
I think both the kids have excellent plans. Though the Wolvog may consider that when his sister is president he should have dinner at her house a lot too, seeing as they have all those fancy chefs.
I've been thinking about my job a lot lately. I held back on what I really want to do because it would complicated the kid thing even more. But I've been thinking about if I should keep not doing what I want when the kids that I want aren't coming for a while anyways. Argh! Now I am *thinking*! Why do you do this to me?!

Shelby said...

Too cute. I love the Wolvog's plan- just perfect! As long as he supplies his family with the apple products as well, of course!

Think it's funny that you posted TMBG's video at the bottom, because I'm listening to them as I type. I heart TMBG!!

Alexicographer said...

Along with some other commentators (commenatrices, per Alexa?), I wonder what Chickienob thinks work is. To understand the implications of her question, I think you'd have to know what attributes she assigns to work. Is it "for pay?" Out of the house? For a boss? Etc., etc.

As for me, I think when I grow up I want to be Mel, only not living in an urban area (and I'm not Jewish). However, no one will ever, ever imagine even for one moment that I missed my calling as a personal organizer, so I guess that's out. Oh well.

Kim said...

Just the other day, B asked me why 'that mommy' (a woman) was wearing 'daddy clothes' (we live on a navy base) and I told her that she was going to work, and she said, 'but mommies don't work!'

Well, honey, mommy DID work, before I decided to stay home and listen to you whine and demand snacks all day long ;O)

Aurelia said...

You haven't spoken about it because of the subject and how it leads to all sorts of OTHER subjects, like sex and where babies come from and infertility and "mommy are you sick" questions and other things that feel like answers you hope you never have to give to a daughter who you hope, oh please god you hope never has to go through this.

We all do that.

As for what to say, talk about your work and how mommy is going to work right now, etc...announce it just like Josh does when he leaves the house.

Talk about it at dinner.

And if you are doing house/mom-related work that day talk about that as a form of work that everyone would miss if you weren't doing your job.

Seriously. If my nanny gets paid to do it, and it's a job when she does it, then why isn't it a real job when I do it? Answer being that it is a job....just not something the world gives credit to.

And then you start talking about sexism just like the awesome way you spoke about trans rights on your "free the pee" post.

Which I still love, btw.

tj said...

What I want to be when I grow up...funny how this comes up just as I have been asking myself that daily :P.

I want to be a midwife, and a yoga/pilates instructor. Or maybe a kindergarten teacher? Or librarian? Or pharmacist? Or get my doctrit and work in medical management?

And a mother, we'll see how that one ends up!

Good Lord, I have no clue! But for another day, I'll just be me :)

Photogrl said...

It is amazing how they pick up on stuff...ask Miss O. about what you can be when you grow up and you'll get this answer...

"Girls work at TV stations, and Boys work at the mall."

She doesn't know what we do, only where we go to work...

But we love They Might Be Giants, and I find myself often singing that song as I walk into my newsroom! ;)

nonlineargirl said...

Ada and I just talked about work after she declared she wants to be a mama when she grows up. I suggested she could be a mama AND something else. We talked about the jobs of people we know, and she decided she wants to be a mama and a math teacher.

DrSpouse said...

I want to run a knitting/book shop on Catalina Island. However, I also want to still be with Mr. Spouse and he doesn't want to live on Catalina Island. So perhaps something else.

beagle said...

I would most love to be an earning (clay) artist but the only ones I know are dirt poor or have spouses who do the *real* earning.

Oh hell . . . if we are wishing here . . . I want to be president. Not of America . . . of the WORLD!

Why not?

On a serious note: I loved this post. It's so hard to know what they are taking in and how to give them the variety of perspectives that will give them true choice. And it is so hard to know what their questions really mean. This one has given you pause but it may already be gone from her thoughts.

Young minds amaze me.

Bea said...

Perhaps you hid yourself in the cracks in order to fulfill the ideal of being totally committed to them? Not that you can't find a good balance - in fact, as you've pointed out, there are valuable lessons in keeping some of yourself to yourself, loudly and proudly and unapologetically.

Or maybe it was just the practical thing.

Dream job? I think really I want to be *interesting* when I grow up. I can think of things I'd like to pursue, and a lot of the paths overlap, but none of it's very straightforward and commonsensical. It doesn't seem to cohere into any sort of grand picture. Unless you count "being interesting" as a grand picture.

I've got a lot of work to do on it yet.

Oh, also, my mum was a SAHM, and I was quite indignant when some of my preschool friends told me that women couldn't be doctors at one point, and I quite clearly remember making this whole issue out of proving that women could be anything they wanted, so obviously my mum got that across without having to model it - so I think you're fine! In fact, I wonder if something like that sparked it?