And What Do You Do?

And What Do You Do?

From Chicken Soup for Every Mom's Soul

And What Do You Do?

Being a full-time mother is one of the highest salaried jobs . . . since the payment is pure love.

Mildred B. Vermont

To me, housewife is as appealing a title as septic-tank cleaner. Mention either at a cocktail party, and suddenly no one wants to stand near you. Housewife might satisfy the IRS because it explains in one word your negative cash flow. But it doesn’t describe what I do every day, seven days a week with no sick days, holidays and at times no bathroom breaks.

In previous years, my accountant had listed my occupation on my tax return as writer. But between last year’s preterm labor (five weeks on the couch) and colic (four months wishing I could put my wailing baby down and sit on the couch), I barely had the time and energy to write a grocery list, let alone something salable. So, I gave up writing to stay home and care for my two young sons. I didn’t choose the title for the job.

I could call myself a domestic engineer, like my sister-in-law did. But if I knew anything about engineering, I’d be able to open and close the playpen without stifling more four-letter words than you hear in an episode of “The Sopranos.”

Domestic engineer is far too supercilious a title. Mention it at your husband’s office holiday party, and people might ask where you got your degree. After a few eggnogs, you might reply, Episiotomy U. or Postpartum State. The next day at your “office,” your responses won’t seem as clever—except to your mother, who holds master’s degrees from those institutions.

Stay-at-home mom sounds benign enough until you’ve spent three straight rainy days trapped inside with a two-year-old who thinks Nancy Reagan coined “Just Say No” for him, and a one-year-old who chews on shoes—including the pair you’re wearing. Then you’d realize that stay-at-home mom is an oxymoron.

A stay-at-home mom stays home only when Dad drags the kids to the Home Depot (thank God) or when the governor declares a state of emergency. Otherwise, she’s at a Moms-and-Tots meeting, the supermarket or the mall, dropping quarter after quarter into the Batmobile ride.

Full-time mom is another misnomer, because it implies that working mothers are part-time mothers, and that’s just not true. Anyone whose Day-Timer reads “Marketing report due,” “Pediatrician appointment” and “Make eighteen cupcakes for preschool party” on the same page is not only working full-time at motherhood, she’s working overtime.

Besides, “full-time” doesn’t even begin to cover how much time I spend at my job. Most full-time workers put in forty to fifty hours a week. I put that in by Wednesday. In my job, I’m on call around the clock. Add family vacations, where I bring my work with me on a very, very long car ride, and full-time becomes all-the-time.

Homemaker is a quaint title, but inappropriate. I haven’t made any homes, though I’ve seen enough construction videos (thanks to my sons) that I probably could build a decent cabin—or at least a nice shed where I could hide. But really, I’m not making a house so much as I’m trying to keep my toddlers from tearing ours down.

In some ways, homemaker sounds worse than housewife. To me, a homemaker does all the same things as a housewife, but with a warm smile and a meatloaf she whipped up between craft projects and Christmas carols. She certainly doesn’t have a toddler throwing a tantrum on the kitchen floor because she won’t let him have animal crackers for dinner. A homemaker? By five o’clock, I’m too exhausted to make dinner, let alone a home.

I wish I could think of a better title for the toughest job I’ve ever had. But no matter what I come up with, my accountant will likely just put housewife on my tax returns anyway. And the Social Security Administration will keep sending me reports with zeros on it. Perhaps that’s just how society values what I do.

But the next time someone asks, “And what do you do?” I’ll just say that I do what my mother did, and her mother did. I’ll say it’s such a hard job, my husband wouldn’t want to do it, and my father wouldn’t know how. I’ll say my kids are very proud of what I do. And they should know, because they come to work with me every day. And then I’ll go chat with the septic-tank cleaner.

Jennifer Singer

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