Monday, November 1


(Before I get started -- apologies to anyone who commented a while ago on some other posts. I had enabled comment moderation on old posts to reduce spam but I failed to ensure I would be notified of them. Oops! I have read and published them all; thanks for sharing and sorry I'm a lame blogger.)

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming...

A while ago I tagged along with Mark to a small gathering for some medical students and residents. I'm pretty sure I was the only non-medical professional (or soon-to-be one) there. Anyway, we were sitting at a table with three of his classmates, all of whom we've come to consider good friends. Several residents approached and one of Mark's classmates -- we'll call her Jane -- proceeded to introduce all five of us to the residents.

Jane is kind and sensitive. She is one of those people who is always looking out for everybody else. She has always been very sweet to me. I like her a lot.

She started with the other two students. "This is Jim and he's going into cardiology, and this is Jen and she's going into orthopedics. I'm Jane and I'm going into pediatrics, and this is Mark, and he's going into pediatrics too." Then she got to me. "This is Mark's wife Dani, and she's a mom," [slightest of pauses] "and that's an accomplishment."

My gut reaction to this introduction of me was to say something snarky, but the first thing that came to mind was rather crude and not exactly what I was going for in the first-impressions department. So I just smiled and said hello to the murmurs of "nice to meet you" going around.

I do not consider my motherhood to be an "accomplishment," and that word kind of trivializes what motherhood is anyway. Besides, for all I knew, some of those residents might be mothers themselves.

This experience didn't upset me or even ruffle my feathers, but it did prompt a lot of thinking. I assume that Jane's intent was to make sure that I didn't feel bad about being the only one without a "and she's going into neurosurgery" tag line, and "accomplishment" was probably just the first word that came out -- I doubt she considered all the connotations of it that I mulled over that evening.

When I'm in similar medical settings and we're doing the introductions thing ("I'm So-and-so and I'm a third year," etc.), I prefer to just say, "I'm Dani, and I'm not a student; just married to one." I guess my message is Unlike everyone else here, I'm not going to relate to you on the medical level -- I'm here because I'm attached to that guy over there. It seems like a good introduction for the context. I've used this same introduction regardless of whether I was unemployed, at a job I disliked, loved, or, like now, not working by choice. I figure if you want to know more about me we can take it from there.

I understand why vocation is so often included in an introduction. After all, the whole point of an introduction is to get to know a little bit about someone and start a connection. And part of what forms who you are is how you spend your time, and most people spend a lot of time at their vocation, so that seems like a reasonable thing to know about someone. And for lucky people who are on the career path of their choice, occupation is a good get-to-know-you because that choice says something about them. But if you happen to not love or be proud of your job, or if your job title doesn't sound cool or glamorous or lucrative, maybe telling people where you work when you introduce yourself is torture.

I'm not really sure where I'm going with this. I have no qualms about my choice to not have a paying job, even in a crowd of professionals (many and sometimes most of whom are women). In the time I have to myself when I'm not actively meeting the needs of my child, I have my fingers in a lot of different pots, many of which I could use to identify myself. Or I could just say I work in Human Capital Development; that sounds pretty highfalutin, doesn't it? (I know I'm not the first one to come up with fancy corporate-sounding names for mothering. Sue me.)

Anyway. I guess the bottom line is that I don't feel inferior to people who get paid to work (nor do I feel superior), so I don't feel any need to defend or justify or apologize for being "just" a mom.


Charly said...

I am the CEO of Domestic and Personnel Operations. Haha. I think your title is pretty great too. Thanks for your was a good one. Casey often comments how guys at work will congratulate him for having a wife who stays at home to take care of the kids...we both don't understand the "congratulations" part.

Ashley Clark said...

Well said. I find myself saying "i'm JUST a SAHM." I hate when I catch myself saying it because i'm pretty sure if people knew what it was like to have two kids at home.. they would marvel at what I am able to accomplish in a day. I just wish there was a better box to check than "homemaker" on surveys... but i'm not sure what that would be.

Jillian said...

So true. I find it hilarious when people want to define me by my education or vocation when, in fact, I don't feel like either really describe much about me. They're just things I do, which happen to be a smaller part of my life than the percentage that they take up of my life. If that makes sense...

Ann-Marie said...

So this makes me think about the talk Sis. Beck gave awhile back and when she said, "just because you CAN do it, doesn't mean you should."

I've been mulling over that and trying to decide what efforts I SHOULD be using my talents on. You know? What area of my brain should I be stretching at this point--to help my family and those around me.

I better stop before I go on a tangent!

Pinto said...

Yeah, introductions are just a very, very weird thing all around I think. What do you choose as your descriptor? What does someone else choose to describe you? Is that appropriate for the occasion? What does someone else's descriptor about you say about them? etc. etc.

Like, for example, You wouldn't necessarily introduce yourself as "married to a med student" if you were in a place solo and in a situation unrelated to medicine, but that's a perfectly understandable introduction in other settings like the ones you describe.

It'd be interesting to try and tally how many times you introduce yourself in a certain way. Like, how many times do I say, "I'm Heidi and I make maps." vs. "I'm Heidi and I majored in Humanities" vs. "I'm Heidi and I'm in Blah-Blah ward." vs "I'm Heidi and I happen to like dill pickles."

Though, I don't know if that tally would say more about what you value about yourself or rather say more about the social situations you find yourself in more often.

Are intros more about what you think about yourself or more about relating to others? If it's the first, then I suppose it really doesn't matter whatever the heck you want to say in an intro, as long as it's what you like about yourself. If it's the latter, then that's tricky.

I think people's intros (and people introducing others) are more concerned with the latter (identifying with the group), so if a party is based on a common career theme, then the introducer will introduce people according to that theme.

Which, of course, makes being a SAHM sometimes sticky. Some people want it to be seen as their Career in those situations, some don't. But, the fact is, that the draw in many social situations is toward finding the common career ground. And we haven't quite figured out as a culture what we want to do with SAHMothering.

So, totally true that there shouldn't be a feeling of being "Just a SAHM", like you said. But, in a situation where people are being introduced by their career accomplishments (since that's what brought you all together in the first place), it makes sense that that would become the format of introduction--and the format that your friend was suddenly forced to face without knowing what your chosen fill-in-the-blank would be. (And I know I'm repeating pretty much everything you already said. I'm just word barfing for my own brain.)

I think the question then comes back to: "How are you/I/we going to choose to fill in this 'career/accomplishments' template? One that is so common and will continue to repeatedly pop up again in the future?"

I suppose you could try and be a rebel and come up with something totally unrelated but something you like about yourself (see: "I like dill pickles" above), but the problem is that it will sound weird and "off" in the context of everyone else's attempts to find a common ground.

Addendum: I was also thinking about how many women are reticent to introduce themselves as mothers and wives only. My first reaction is something like, "Man, that's sad that we feel guilty for doing something that makes us happy." But, I also realized that perhaps many women feel as if an intro should be something about themselves as a single self and not defining themselves solely based on their relationship with another human?

So, blah blah blah novel blah blah War and Peace length comment that was circular as all heck blah blah

Jerelyn Dunaway said...

On a recent grocery store excursion, with the two boys running around the cart and my nearly 8 month protruding pregnant belly, I was asked, "So, what do you do?" I simply gestured to the children and my stomach with a smile. I could have used a snappy, hilarious and polite "Dani response".