Most IQ tests would probably conclude that I am an idiot. And I am not even going to fight this.
When people ask me what I do, many expect one of these two straightforward answers: I am a stay at home mom or I am a working mom. I never really managed to choose which box was the most relevant to me, let alone describe it. I am often tempted to respond: ‘Life is not in black or white but in a various shades of grey…’ Which probably would make look like
A- a wanker or
B- a failed motivational speaker or
C- a mythomaniac or very possibly,
D- all the above
Instead, I either answer ‘I am in transition/in between things’ (which can be translated into ‘don’t ask more questions or I will cry right now, right there? Do you want you me to blow my nose with your top? I don’t think so…) OR I list, in no coherent order, everything I think I do:
– I take care of my 3 kids from 6-9am
– I am coordinating a grassroots group of families in the neighborhood who want to give a free French English bilingual education to their children
– I order diapers online
– I do the laundry on a weekly basis
– I try to cook every day
– I am freelancing as a business coach for social entrepreneurs like these awesome change makers, MarioWay, who designed an upright wheelchair which I think can really change the way we perceive disability.
– I rant about me, myself and I and procrastinate aka I have a mommy’s blog (to read absolutely by the way in order to decide whether or not you should create a new contact entry after I gave you my phone number)
– I add 10 items in my Gap online store basket every day, only to empty it because I am too broke
– I am venturing into Fashion entrepreneurship ranging from the unlikely (Accessories design) to the most likely (Fashion e-retail)
– I organize parties where adults get drunk and kids bump each other’s head in a bouncy castle.
– I take care of L (for real) in the afternoons.
I also go through this list very quickly so that people get confused and focus instead on how cute they think my kids are.
It’s like when you have your first job interview after graduation and you transform your experience of helping your parents catering nems for Lao weddings into a full fledge ‘entrepreneurial experience’ or when you are using the same internship to cover 100 distinct sets of skills. Verbal diarrhea to fill gaps: it never fools anyone but you do it anyway.
The not earning money is getting really tough for me. I sometimes feel that in the world of today, a woman who pays someone to care for her children while not earning any revenue is seen as a freak. Someone told me few months ago: ‘Normal -as in not filthy rich- women these days either work or take care of their children. Paying child care is an oddity (real words said were ‘du Jamais vu’ , literal translation ‘you have never seen this’) if you don’t work’.
The economic logic of their statement seemed indeed flawless. I should probably have been angry; instead I was embarrassed and admitted: ‘Well I guess some of us can’t just do it. Maybe, I am not physically or emotionally equipped to care for my 3 kids. Maybe I am just limited’.
French women in particular are all expected to go back to work; many things help to ease back into the 9-6pm routine: free public school from age 3 (sometimes even earlier), decent maternity leave that gives you enough time with your Cherubs but not long enough to start have an postpartum existential crisis a la ‘Maybe I should make and sell hats. It seems pretty straightforward, NOT’. I am not at all saying that French women have it easy (far from it), I am just trying to put things into perspective; in the US or at least in the state of New York childcare is privately funded until kids are 5 (or 4 if you are lucky enough to get a public school pre-K spot). I calculated that the median full-time childcare for G,P and L in Manhattan would round up to about $70,000 a year. I should probably have given this person this figure but then again, it would be like trying to justify my choices and why should I do this?
In fact, the person I am truly angry at is myself. For not walking the talk. You see, in my previous life, I have advocated for making visible the contributions of women at home by translating them in economic outputs to inform public policies. I barked that society and governments should stop thinking that women (and men who take care of their home) are sources of unlimited free and altruistic labor who just pick up the shit when public spending is cut or when the cost of private child care or elder care spirals out of control. Yes, I used to say all this type of stuff before concluding that doing this would among other things at the very least improve women’s self-worth.
I realize now that it was all very easy to say when I was an educated childless income earner living the life in London. I do still hold this type of discourse during dinner conversations with friends (who after 5 minutes of my monologue must be wondering whether or not I have my periods) or when boosting another mama’s confidence when she feels fucking awful about not ‘contributing financially’.
But the truth is, the longer I am staying out of a paid job, the flakier my position is becoming. I laud stay-at-home moms but how cannot I be more proud of being one? I should. I really should. I don’t know. I feel like a two-faced b***h. Sometimes.
I don’t think ‘I am a stay-at-home mom’ are words that ever came out of my mouth while that is exactly what I was for a good 2 years and half. Maybe I should join a stay-at-home mom Anonymous group.
I am slowly getting OK about all this though. That’s why I can talk about it now. Guilt free. I made my peace, it’s OK for me to refuse to answer to ‘either or’ questions: ‘stay at home mom’, ‘working mom’, ‘part time mom’, ‘full-time bitch’. Whatever, we all have work to do, don’t we? I always sucked big time at Multiple Choice Testing anyway.