While she was cutting my hair, the beautician asked me what I do for work. When I told her that I stay home with my kids she paused, looked at me in the mirror and hesitantly started asking how I feel about that. I sort of cut her off (there's that phrase again) and said, "Oh yes, it's by choice! I love it." She gave a sort of half-believing, "O-kaaay."
Then I stupidly added that I do some writing from home sometimes, but I am able to be home with my kids full time.
This all reminded me of a bunch of similar experiences I've had here in Poland. In this country mothers just don't stay home with their kids. All kids attend preschool and often nursery, though many kids stay with their grandparents during the day until they are 3 years old (old enough for preschool).
In one of the English discussion classes I taught years ago I was very pleasantly surprised when, during introductions, one young woman said that she stayed home with her two year-old little girl. I jumped right on that! The first mother I'd ever met here who stayed home! I was obviously delighted and I asked her, "How do you like being at home?", excited to have something so important in common with another mother, happy to have met someone that maybe knew the value of --or at least had experienced the joy of-- spending all day working, playing and eating with your child. Someone who might really understand me.
She suddenly got a crazed look in her eye and said, "I hate it! I'm desperate to find a job! I really can't wait to get working." Oh. So never mind about that. Over the course of the semester, whenever she talked about her daughter it was usually only about what a burden she was.
In a different class a very feminist-type girl loved to talk about how terrible it must be to be home all day with your (my) kids, never doing anything, being totally tied down. She couldn't EVER imagine sitting at home babysitting all day, not being able to get up and go whenever and wherever she wanted. Kids belong in daycare. There are reasons people are paid to take care of kids. She said all this while talking about any possible future kids she may have, as if they would be adornments to be worn when it suited her. She wasn't even sure if she wanted any and I wasn't brave enough to suggest that she probably shouldn't bother.
Another actual feminist felt very differently, however. She thought it was great that I stay home with my kids. I told her that I thought feminists thought women should be out in the world making a difference and getting equal pay to men. She said that feminist believe that women should be able to do whatever they want, and since I obviously loved what I was doing any real feminist should think that was cool.
Before the hair cut, the most recent example, and the one that made me think the most, was when I was checking into the hospital to have Spencer. The nurse was taking down all my information. For occupation I said "mother". She asked what I do for work. I (or Greg) told her that I don't work outside the home. I stay home and take care of my kids. She jotted that down (or possibly wrote "N/A" or "unemployed" and I think there was a brief interchange about it.
A little later the subject came up again and Greg said, well, she's a writer, and explained that I do some freelance writing from home. The lady was hugely impressed. "A writer! Oh! Why on EARTH did you say "mother!?!" You're not unemployed! You have a great job!" She said and/or expressed as much on her face.
I was not flattered by her admiration. I was alarmed that typing things on a computer was something worth mentioning (and praising), while intensively spending my time trying to shape four human beings into the very best people they can be, dedicating all (okay, most) of my thoughts, prayers and energy to four little people that look to me to meet their needs, for direction and guidance in making good and right decisions, for unconditional love and acceptance and for everything else they need to be physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually ready to make their own way in the world--that didn't count for anything in the space on the sheet of paper that was supposed to tell What I Am.
But that is exactly What I Am. And it doesn't matter if not everyone understands this--But a mother is not a nobody. She is the most important kind of somebody.