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So... When are You Going Back to Work?

About two years ago, when we were living in Italy, we were at an end-of-the-year picnic with Pip’s school. I found myself talking a father of one of her classmates, who spoke English quite well.

Of course, we weren’t long into the conversation before he asked, “So… what do you do?”

Me: I’m a stay-at-home mom.

Him: You mean, you don’t work at all?

Maybe he doesn’t understand English as well as he speaks it. I tried again…

Me: I stay at home with my daughters. That’s my job.

(I consider telling him that I have a blog and that I really want to be a writer, but I already have a full-time, unpaid position so it's going sort of slowly… but decide this would prove his point that what I'm doing now isn't fully "work".)

Blank stare.

Me: And since we’ve just up and moved to another country, I’m pretty busy with the whole learning a foreign language, trying to keep Bean out of therapy after a traumatic preschool experience, and all this damn driving.

Him: Well, are you going to get a job here?

Me: Maybe I’m not making myself clear. I’m pretty much booked… this stay-at-home mom business is a 24-hour thing and now that we’re living in your ass-backwards country, I’m working overtime on a daily basis.

Him: Wow. That sounds like the good life. Where can I find a job like that? Chuckle.

I think I said something about his mother under my breath and made my best attempt to put a curse on his perfect, Italian hair while I walked away. Never before had the answer to that question received such a condescending response… which says more about the men in Italy than it does anyone’s choice to be at home with her children.

I found myself fighting back the urge to march back over to him and justify my decision. To tell him all the sacrifices my husband and I make because this is what we want for our family. I had some inane desire for him to know that I’ve never had a cleaning lady and that we don’t go out to eat very often, that my husband checks our bank account on a daily basis (which has more to do with my husband’s issues with money than my choice to stay at home) and that I barely ever go shopping (outside of the grocery)… I could have gone on and on. It could have gotten ugly. There could have been poking and name calling.

But, instead, I took a deep breath and told myself that he wasn’t worth the effort. Which, of course, he wasn’t.

This question, “what do you do?” has taken many forms over the past seven years, once I had Pip and decided to be a stay-at-home-mom. There are people I meet that wonder, “so… when are you going back to work?” There are friends who wonder, “will you to go back into teaching?” There are other friends who want to know, “will you do anything else once the kids are in school full time?” And there are my favorite friends who ask me, “are you ever going to do anything with your writing?” because it seems like maybe they assume I could and that feels more like a compliment than a question.

And then there are obnoxious, Italian men with superiority complexes who want to make me feel like I’m doing nothing of any value, with the exception of “living the good life”.

Which is probably why I have always felt like this inquiry verges on the deeply personal… sort of like when I was pregnant and old women in the grocery store would ask me if I was going to breastfeed? (I’m not sure, lady, but why don’t you give me your thoughts because your opinion means the world to me.)

And while I don’t find questions about my career or my career choice to be inappropriate, I sometimes feel as though they pick at that sensitive area that sits silently between working moms and stay-at-home moms.

It’s as though the world is to assume that the answer to this question is, in fact, your judgment on the subject matter itself. In other words, if I stay at home I must believe that I have chosen the right path; when a mother chooses to work, then she’s saying she believes her choice is the right one. And the endless network of reasons why each of us makes this choice is completely ignored and the assumption that we’ve made a judgment call on all moms is speaking for us.

But most probably we’re not making a judgment call at all. We’re just making the choice that’s best for us… the one with which we can live and still maintain the most sanity.

I recently went on a girls’ trip to Florida with three other dear friends. At one point during the weekend we were talking about careers and what we want to do, be doing, dream of doing, and so forth. At one point I said, in describing myself, “…just a mom.”

The three of them immediately scolded me. “Not just a mom… a MOM!!”

This serves to remind me of several things: 1) as mothers, we should be proud of whom we are and the choice we’ve made; 2) I’m grateful that I have the option to make that choice; 3) some Italian men are stupid; 4) a once-a-year girls’ weekend should be a staple in every family’s budget.

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Comment by Heather McGuire on July 26, 2010 at 3:31pm
Ha!! Definitely rude! It's definitely split.... we lived in the North, so more women worked in that area, but many parts are more traditional. His wife did work, of course! ;)
Comment by Amy L. Sullivan on July 26, 2010 at 3:27pm
Oh my goodness...RUDE! Dumb question, but do most Italian women work outside the home? I mean obviously his poor wife probably holds three jobs.

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