Just, there are times when I’ve just thought about, on my worst day, just, you know, leaving our house and going some place. Like checking into a hotel and just being in a quiet room by myself. Just sitting in a quiet air-conditioned room, sitting down, eating my lunch with no one touching me, drinking a Diet Sprite, by myself.
– Tina Fey
What do you do? This is one of our go-to conversation starters in North America. I cannot speak for the rest of the world, but usually, within five minutes of meeting someone in Canada, he/she’ll ask you what you do. Our answers define us and give the asker an impression of who we are. Based on the answer we may continue the conversation, or glaze over and move on.
Around this time last year, I was having a big struggle with the What do you do? bit. Most of my mat-leave friends had returned to their jobs, and I was beginning to wonder what I would do with myself as Gavin got older. Was it enough to be a “stay-at-home mom?” (World’s worst job-title, by the way.) Did I feel fulfilled in my own life caring for our son and giving him all of my attention at home? Was that enough for me? Generally, I was feeling that the answer to that was No. I wasn’t sure what I should be doing, I didn’t want to leave Gavin, but I felt conflicted. There were days when I thought about how incredibly soothing it would be to go to an office, drink a coffee and talk to grown-ups while I did some randomly defined work on a computer. My old job as an ESL teacher (not without its stresses) appeared retrospectively to be an Eden of relaxation in comparison to parenting.
As I struggled with this internal conflict, the bomb dropped, and our world was torn apart. My son needed me and it was a blessing that I didn’t have a job to disentangle myself from, and I signed on for my new role as a hospital parent. For the most part, the majority of people we know are aware of what we have been through and what Gavin’s journey has been. It is always difficult for me when strangers or new acquaintances ask completely innocuous questions about our life like, What do you do? The answer is so incredibly complex and layered, and yet, how do you lay that on someone who expects to hear, I’m a teacher, I’m a lawyer, I work in IT. Luckily, some of the answers have gotten easier. Where do you live? is no longer responded to with, At the hospital. Now I can safely say, and without tears, I live in the west end.
Tonight I joined Craig at a social event put together by co-workers and friends of theirs. Very few people there knew our story, so I was frequently asked, So, what do you do? I decided to keep it simple, and so I said, I’m at home with our son. And quickly deflected the conversation elsewhere. For the first time, I did not reveal to anyone what we have been through and so conversations stayed lovely and banal and tearless. I’m beginning to be in a place where I don’t need everyone to know all the details of our struggles.
But, when I think about What do you do? The answer is: I’m a nurse. I’m a doctor. I’m a physiotherapist. I’m a dietician. I’m a teacher. I’m a chef. I’m a cleaner. I’m a mama.
And. I read. I write. I do yoga. I garden. I learn about food. I care for the environment. I organize. I take pictures. I have adventures. I eat chocolate. I stay up late.
What do you do?