the simple minded suburbanite


You Work Because We Need the Money
October 17, 2009, 11:32 pm
Filed under: culture, suburb, suburbanite

Three friends of mine took me out to lunch for my birthday the other day. Lovely enough thought.  A perfect indian summer day, as we called it growing up in the midwest.  A table outside and an early lunch of fresh fare could’ve been more relaxing. 

Yet, I was feeling a bit strained.  For one, as much as I like to be the center of attention with a dirty joke or a crazy antic, I really dont’ like being the focus on days that require gift giving.  I was uncomfortable at my bridal shower and also at my baby shower, even though the gifts were for my soon to be little one. And, for two, I’ve grown a tad bit uncomfortable with these three.  One has a habit of constantly throwing out the specific amounts of large sums of money she is spending on her latest project, or pair of shoes, or SUV, or private school tuition, or toothpaste, or Torey whatever.  The other, well, our politics don’t match up and it has been tense ever since I posted my Obama sign in my front yard last autumn.  The other, I guess we’re fine.

But, that day, as we sat outside at our pretty little table that overlooked the strip mall parking lot, all of us with freshly washed hair and ballerina flats, it was that third friend said, the one I thougt was fine, that forced me to wolf down my field greens to avoid screaming out, “What are we teaching our children?!” 

“I told my daughter that I was going to be subbing in her class next week and she acted kinda funny about it.”  We nodded.  My friend started substitute teaching  a year or so ago after her youngest began kindergarten.  She’s toyed with returning to school to up her teaching credentials or starting an entirely new career. 

“She’s embarrassed?” I asked, knowing her daughter is in middle school and knowing from my own experience of my son shouting at me in the van upon returning from a family party, “You’re so embarrassing!” that embarrassment of parents starts around this time.

“Well, that’s what I thought,” my friend said.  “But when I asked her about it, do you know what she said?”

I shook my head and gave in to the buttered french bread resting on the edge of my plate.

“She said, ‘Mom, I don’t want my friends to know you work because they’ll think we don’t have money.”

“Aahh,” my other two friends sighed then simultaneously sipped nervously from their sweating water glasses.

“Are you kidding?” I gulped.  “What did you say to her?”

“I said, ‘Honey, if we needed the money, I wouldn’t be doing this job, let me tell you!'”

My body tensed.  My lips pursed.  My molars ground upon each other.  I waited.  But, no.  That was it.  “If we needed the money, I wouldn’t be doing this job!”  Was that all my friend had to say to her impressionable, growing into woman-hood, daughter?

“Wrong!  Wrong!  Wrong!’ That voice in my head screamed out.  Wrong on so many levels. Why not…

“Women work and take pride in their work for many reasons, not just extra income.”

“There’s no shame in anyone working to support their family.”

“You should be proud that you have a mother who is using her education and talents in many different ways, including through her work.”

My friend jabbered on.  The other two rubbed their hands on the white linen napkins and avoided looking at ME, the one who does work for many reasons, one being because we need the extra income.

The Torey whatever friend avoids work like Walmart.  She pays someone to scoop her dog’s poop and do homework with her only child.  The other, works  a day or so a week at her husband’s business.  Both are fine and don’t affect me in any way but, apparently, I was the only one sitting at the table that needs to work and every one, except the jabbering one, figured that out quickly.

To be straight, I’ve never stopped working and what I mean by that is this:  I worked up to two and a half hours before my first son was born.  After that, he had some sensory issues at an early age and I immersed myself in learning everything I could to help him along with everything I could about the fine art of mothering.  As each of my other boys were born, I peppered in evening classes about everthing from acting to writing to certification classes for keep up my occupational therapy license.  I cleaned my own house.  I painted my own walls and I did not have a single babysitter available to me until my oldest son was three.  So, I have always worked.

Two years ago, I decided to contract myself out to the geriatric rehab center down the road there and there to earn a little extra cash for the extras.  This lead to a little less than part-time gig at a not-for-profit that I could do mostly from my home.  It wasn’t many hours but I loved the extra pocket money, the freedom that brought, and the sense of “I still got it!”

Then my husband go laid off, like many people have, and I was proud to be able to help support our family and ease a small bit of the burden.  He got a new job quickly, but a series of costly home repairs paired with a few years of next to no bonus, put us in a financial stress, a stress that we are still pulling ourselves out from.  We tightened our belts and paid mostly cash, as is my husband’s motto. That left us for the better in the long run but left us with little else than the neccessities in the present. 

And up until this little luncheon, I had felt nothing but pride and a sense of “we’re doing this together and we’re getting through it” about our home situation.  Sure, I was aware that many other people around us seemed alot better off, but, being from a small blue colar town, I was also keenly aware that many others in this country were not.  It never dawned on me for one second that my work was anything more than a natural easing back into a career and recreating it to a level of personal and professional satisfaction.  And I certainly never thought anyone, especially a child, would view a mother working as a sort of pitiful situation.  Until this lunch.

“It’s the suburb we live in,” said one of my friends, one that, like me,  is from a meager small town upbringing.

It’s still wrong and it’s equally wrong that I was too ashamed to say so.

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