|Finally finishing my Ph.D. gave me the privilege of saying that I "don't work."|
Today I encountered that question that makes moms like myself absolutely cringe, "...but do you work?" The context was someone implying that I should be available at any moment to receive a phone call, since I "don't work."
Given that this was a nurse at our pediatrician's office, she knew I was a mom. And you'd think at the office of a pediatrician they'd be sympathetic to the realities of parenthood. Here is what I did NOT say, but was thinking:
1. "No, I don't work. I just lie on the couch sipping mochas, playing Candy Crush Saga, and watching soap operas, and I'm worried that your phone call will interrupt my show."
2. "Yes, I work 24 hour days, seven days a week. But does your 'future appointments scheduler' ever work?"
3. "No, I don't work. But if I did, scheduling an appointment would be a breeze because I wouldn't have to worry about your office calling me when my kids are ____, _____, _____, or ______."
4. (Humility out the window...) "Yes, I work. I have a Ph.D. and I'm a university professor currently teaching a class. I'd prefer if you addressed me as 'Dr.' for the rest of this conversation."
What I actually said was, "The fact that I'm not currently working full-time does not mean that I am always available to receive a phone call."
I find making phone calls of this nature to be one of the most difficult tasks to complete while caring for three boys under the age of five. I'd even say it's right up there with mopping the kitchen the floor while caring for three boys under the age of five. And that's why, when I actually get a quiet moment, with two kids playing happily in the sandbox and a newborn taking a nap, I take the opportunity to make such phone calls (or mop the kitchen floor). It's the flexibility of creatively responding to the present situation in order to be efficient in my use of time.
The nurse suggested that I leave a voicemail detailing the best times to reach me. Hmmmm...would the length of such a voicemail fit on the average messaging system? Should I detail the pick up times for preschool, school, and after-school art? Could I accurately predict my toddler's exact nap time and length? Etc. I know from past experience, that I'm most likely to receive a phone call at the precise moment when three children all need my attention. So I will have to have the conversation with the background of screaming and crying.
But the real issue here is not simply about the challenges of being a stay-at-home mom or the difficulty of not only knowing and remembering, but also accurately predicting a schedule that is coordinating the lives of five children and two parents. No, the issue here is that, as a stay-at-home mom, my time is viewed by others as simply expendable. I'm not getting paid for my so-called "work" and therefore inconveniencing me is perfectly acceptable.
In the heat of my frustration, I told my husband that from now on, he could schedule the doctor's appointments. Not only does he have a quiet office away from home; he is also a man and hence less likely to experience disrespect. Unfortunately, he doesn't have the family calendar and kids' schedules down in the same way that I do. And, more significantly - as he pointed out - this would in no way solve the overarching problem.
Yes, I'm a stay-at-home mom. And, like anyone else, my time is not expendable. I only have 24 hours, and I fit a lot into those 24 hours. I shouldn't have to seek a full-time job outside of my house where people will acknowledge my Ph.D. and call me "Dr." in order to receive the recognition that my time matters and respect for the work that I do. The time that I spend each day in my home (or at the park or any other location) with little people is not of little significance, to be carelessly overlooked or dismissed by those who spend their days with big people in offices or other locations.
This was my choice. Yes, it has its perks...like having an excuse to be outside on a nice, warm, sunny day; chatting with neighbors; making myself bulletproof cafe lattes in the afternoon; cleaning poop off the bathroom tile with disinfecting wipes; and so on. Whatever the challenges, I'm glad to have made this decision, and if I had it to do over again, I would make the same choice again. My babies are growing up, and I am grateful for the immense amount of time that I get to spend with them in their infancy, toddlerhood, and childhood.
My willingness to forego seeking a full-time job and to live in a world made up of laundry, food service, diapers, Playmobil, and books that rhyme may be incomprehensible to many people. And that's fine. There are plenty of jobs that I have never experienced and do not understand. But whether someone is a nurse or a horticulturalist, an electrician or a roofer, I respect that work. I recognize that all work, done well, can bring a positive contribution to society.
My work, done well, also can make a positive contribution to society. There, I've said it. Yes, I'm a stay-at-home mom. My time is not expendable.