Imagine my surprise to discover I don’t exist.
Since the day I gave up my full-time career and threw myself with my whole essence – and vast quantities of my former sanity – into parenting; family values became the catch phrase of the new millennium and I was much reassured in my choice to become an at-home mother.
The media and the general populace told me that what I was choosing to do with my prime retirement bearing years was a good thing.
Not a job. Thus, you can imagine I was quite unsettled when I ran headlong into a bureaucratic reminder that in our society bent on pounding home family values, “mother” is not a valid occupation. Not on par with, say, a census taker, mail carrier, or the guy who panhandles at intersections.
The discovery of my extinction was purely accidental. Having sought minor medical treatment, I was being duly processed by an office worker, or perhaps more succinctly a “data entry specialist” in order to guarantee that I was indeed worthy of medical care.
During the course of routine questioning I was asked my occupation. This being a question apparently integral to assessing my worthiness for a tetanus shot. Being perhaps erratically fearful of lockjaw, I replied quickly, and with some pride I might add: “Mother.”
Did I stutter? It is then that the intrepid gatherer of information glanced at me over her glasses, sighed loudly, and replied, tersely, “housewife then.” Steeling my gaze and setting my jaw (see, lockjaw is not to be trifled with) I responded tersely “no, Mother.”
To her credit she chuckled and said “well if you feel that strongly about it I can list you as ‘other’. The computer won’t allow “mother” as your occupation.”
Using a pleasant tone undoubtedly honed in years spent pacifying the mentally deranged. Speaking ever so calmly she explained that mothering, as an occupation, simply does not exist.
Burger flipping has its own spot (that would be the service industry). If I sold used cars or stereos I would be neatly categorized as being in “sales” (does perfect attendance at Target 50 percent off blowouts count for nothing?)
And writing, a career of dubious merit that can be performed entirely in your pajamas would afford me reams of respect as a categorical “professional.” Yet nurturing another human being is a non-occupation.
Childcare. More succinctly, if I were tending the children of others, I would be a “childcare professional” or “early childhood education specialist.” As it was, having influenced only those people I have brought directly into the world, I was just an “other.”
Relegated to the ranks of people who fly under official employment radar. The eccentrics who hustle Rolex knock-offs out of their pockets on street corners, or fashion wind sculpture out of car parts in their front yards.
To her credit, upon noting my annoyance, Ms. Officious offered to turn me back into a “housewife” with only the slightest smirk.
To this three bedroom, two bath I thee wed? Who among us ever made vows to honor, cherish, and keep the no-wax vinyl spotless? No, if anything is a lifelong vocation it is mothering.
Housewifery just doesn’t engender an unequivocal change in one’s being, a forever after shift in one’s identity. No matter where I am, or where my children are in relation to me, I am always first and foremost their mother.
The same commitment just does not link me to my house, as anyone witnessing my housekeeping can attest. My relationship with the house is more a casual fling. Perhaps I am more a house-mistress?
Other. Sadly, my blow for equality and truth in labeling didn’t hold much sway over the keeper of records. Thus, I now exist somewhere in the official ether of bureaucracy with an occupation labeled “other.” Nonetheless, I know what I’ve given up my time, money, and whole heart to and it isn’t the rich and rewarding career of otherhood.
So, all bureaucracy aside, I’m penciling in the “M” on my own copies. They can call it what they want, but I know a good gig when I get one. Happy Others Day indeed.
(Kymberly Foster Seabolt wishes all the mothers (and others) a happy Mother’s Day. She welcomes comments c/o firstname.lastname@example.org P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)