Labels are for clothes

In the last few weeks I’ve been getting a lot of work. I am barely out of one project and I’m thrown into the next. I’ve begun to landscape gardens in my free (?) time and am working on a couple of house interiors. And I’ve finally begun to make invoices to go with the work. As I sat there trying to create the template I realised I had no idea what to put on it. Neither do I have a visiting card to hand out when people ask me what all I do.

I’m suddenly, no more just a journalist. I never was, to begin with. I was sister. Daughter. Mother. Wife. Lover. 2am friend. Hand holder. Tree hugger. Squishy cake baker. Compulsive tidier. Obsessive reader. And more. How do I define myself and put it on a card? What, by the way, is this desire to be able to define yourself in response to the question – What do you do? I do so much, that I don’t know how to answer that one.

Which is when I think of a friend of mine. I think she’s a wonderful mother. She works herself to the bone, cooking healthy and interesting food for the kids. She takes them from one class to another to see what interests them. She doesn’t have a TV so there is no question of plonking them in front of it. Unless she is ill, she is out in the park, encouraging them to run and jump and play – she even cycles around with them. And while they are in school she studies, taking various exams so that her own skills don’t rust. She learnt to drive so that she never has to worry if one of them falls ill when her husband is travelling. She learnt to swim so that she could join in their fun. They’re lovely kids. Bright, intelligent, polite, gentle, and aware. And yet when anyone asks her what she does, she shrugs and says, ‘Oh I’m just home with the kids.’

I wonder how one could put all that she does on a visiting card. And I wonder if that is what the pressure often is about. To be able to define yourself in a couple of words on a visiting card. Filmmaker. Designer. Writer. CA. Software architect. HR Consultant. I wonder what it would be like if we handed out little rectangles that said – Maverick. Spontaneous. Impetuous. Fun lover. Happy. Lover. Or just, mother.

And then I realise, that no one, is just a mother. Even those who call themselves that, are learning Spanish. Or reading up on Mughal history and can rattle off numbers, dates and wars. One is volunteering with the blind. Another is doing the grocery shopping for the infirm old couple next door. Yet another is learning to salsa. One is conquering her fear of the water and learning to swim. Another is the PTA representative who ensures that your kids have a smooth journey through the year in class. A fourth is volunteering for the horticulture department in your apartment complex and ensuring that water tankers come in during the worst of summer. These are the people that keep your life running smoothly. Who pick up the slack when you let go. Who will babysit your child while you attend an important meeting. The glue that holds everything together. People have layers. And if we don’t recognise those layers for what they are, it is entirely our own loss. And to those who continue to think of themselves, apologetically, as ‘just moms’, I say – don’t. I’m not asking you to go ‘I am mother, hear me roar’. I’m not going jingoistic and asking you to “celebrate” it. I’m asking you to accept and say it with the same pride and grace as someone who says ‘CEO’. Trust me – it will make a world of difference.

These days we’re so supportive of people who make different choices. We are very understanding when young couples choose not to have kids and keep dogs instead. We are proud of women who refuse to settle for just any man and prefer to stay single and independent. We’re happy for the man who gives up the MBA degree and goes off into the hills to help villagers with sustainable livelihoods. We would never, ever, dream of telling them that they’re not attaining their full potential or living life to the fullest by not being spouse and parent inspite of doing well professionally. So why don’t we extend that courtesy to the oldest (non)choice in the world? Why tell someone that being a parent and spouse and friend is not enough?

It’s Mother’s Day and my FB newsfeed is full of people thanking their mothers and singing paens to them. A sudden, annual realisation of what you owe that person for the human you are today. A gratitude for all that was done for you even though that gratitude was never demanded of you. All achieved without a visiting card printed ‘Mother’ or an invoice with an hourly billed rate. Clearly this is something that matters. Being a mother, just a mother, matters.

Happy Mother’s Day, ladies. Can’t remember life before I became one and can’t imagine it any other way. Such a fullness of life. God bless us.

PS: Tambi sent me this article on mommy bloggers and I laughed. Clearly I am missing the bus!

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47 thoughts on “Labels are for clothes

  1. The minute you sign up for motherhood, don’t you also sign up for 50 other things? Cook, tushie cleaner, worrier-in-chief, coach, chaser away of nightmares, chauffeur……. I don’t think there are enough pages on a resume or a visiting card big enough to put all these things in. Happy Mother’s day MM.

  2. Beautiful post. Happy mother’s day to you as well! This line you wrote is so beautiful: “People have layers. And if we don’t recognise those layers for what they are, it is entirely our own loss”!

  3. Oh this one so HIT home. Not because Im a mommy blogger, but Ive been battling this have-so-much-to-do-what-do-I-call-myself battle for over a year now. Its like life suddenly opened up and gave me so much to do and try and experience, that I don’t fall into any ONE category. Its often overwhelming, as it is frustrating when you wonder what youre doing, and the answer sometimes lies in what are you NOT doing..haha!

    Happy Mother’s Day MM!!

  4. Oh and that dooce woman is brilliant, not so much for her writing, but her whole story itself. When I discovered her sometime last year, I spent a few days seriously contemplating just following her model to the T and getting dooced.

  5. Happy Mother’s Day to you to. I agree with your overall point, I think it’s so important. Some thoughts:

    “How do I define myself and put it on a card?” – Visiting cards are meant to be a professional courtesy. So they will generally highlight services one offers professionally, that one can call you for if they need that service. So generally, one would stick to a few points on those. But I know people who had visiting cards made for themselves and they just had their names and contact details without anything else. But the card itself was nicely designed and gave an impression of the person.

    “What, by the way, is this desire to be able to define yourself in response to the question – What do you do?” A highly inane and irritating question, I’ve always thought. But being socially inept, it is one I resort to myself a lot, even as I cringe inwardly while asking it. And I have to admit that when people say they are a homemaker, I can’t think what to say beyond that… again because I am bad at conversation, and there’s no immediate point of interest that comes to mind, possibly, because as you said, the role is so broad. Still, I should be trying harder.

    I do like the sound of “I’m a mother, hear me roar”!

    • That’s an idea. I think I shall just get a card with name and number on it. Very cool.
      I think we’re socially conditioned to ask people about their jobs and to not consider homemakers or SAHMs as valuable. So there is a standard set of questions- What do you do? Oh I have a friend working there too. He’s on the 7th floor. I also know someone in HR there, blah blah. OR. That sounds interesting – tell me more about your work. I’ve never met a designer before.

      But with this option, we’re so gobsmacked that we don’t know where to go. Or we end up over compensating and patronising and saying, ‘That is the MOST important job in the world, good for you.’ Er. Whatevs.

      I’ve learnt that asking people where they live and what they do are considered rude questions. Because both of them tell you something about their financial standing. More polite starters are – how do you know the host? Isn’t that a lovely song? Haven’t heard it in ages!

      • Yes, it is partly for fear of sounding patronising, that I refrain from saying anything further when people say they are stay-at-home moms. That whole topic generally gets everyone bristling.

        But you are right about the ‘what do you do’ being disingenous. And I am guilty of the “where do you live” also but only in HK, never in India. HK also has it’s hierarchy of places to live but I myself live in the boondocks so it’s kind of putting myself forward as the conversation starter.

        But, ‘how do you know the host’ – yes, I have used that with much success so I should just stick with that one. As you can see, I really have appalling social skills. I literally need a list of 20 questions before I can be taken out safely in public.

  6. There’s got to be a Thumbs Up button here, MM, for some of the comments (like IHM has on her blog… can you add?) Btw, you’re finally doing the landscaping and decorating, huh? I’m SO glad to know! Pliss to share pictures if your friends/clients allow them? I love seeing your work! Hugs.

  7. Same goes for the job of housewife. Everybody thinks its an easier thing to do. Sit at home and do nothing. But I now realize the full potential of house-wives or rather home-makers.

    • Precisely. It’s all very well to say that someone goes to work and still comes back and runs a home, but only you know what you do in that home that you run and you don’t need to justify it to anyone else. That said, it’s nice to be able to say it without feeling the need to defend it.

  8. Beautiful post, MM. I agree – people have so many, so many layers to them. It is entirely our loss if we look at just one layer or judge them just on face value. There are millions of stories behind every individual, some of which cannot be explained or told – they only need to be experienced.

    Happy Mother’s Day, MM. :)

  9. A lovely lovely post MM. Am on the verge of quitting my job every few days but just not able to actually do it. And one of the fears I have which is not letting me make take the call, is how will I be judged when people ask me, ‘And what do you do?’. Presently when I tell I work, I still do get judged, and not in a good way many times :(.
    Its great that you have started designing gardens and interiors, would love to see glimpses of your work. Wish you all the very best.

    • I dreaded that for a long long time but when I actually did, it was worth it. Even if it doesn’t turn out to be a good decision, at least you will not regret not doing it.

  10. I believe being a mother is probably the toughest job in the world . We have a full time driver ,a cook and a maid at home but still whenever I see my mom ,she is always doing something ,always busy in some house work . She cannot stay at one place ,she always has to make sure everything is being done the right way . I dont think I can ever be half as good she is

  11. Happy, happy Mother’s day to THE Ideal Mommy. You are an inspiration to so many of us. We all love you to bits! :)

    So glad to see you’re getting time to do interior decors! Now I wish I could move to Delhi. :|

  12. MM, I can’t thank you enough for this post. “So, what do you do?” is a question I have dreaded from the bottom of my heart. I almost refused to socialise and meet new people at one time, cos that is the question that would hound me. It was at a time when I was fighting my own demons. Dealing with my situation was hard enough, answering people made it worse. I wrote about it on my blog at http://pepperedthoughts.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/reevaluating-my-life/ And I think I have ranted about this a lot of times.

    You do have good readership and so I request and urge you to do a post on acceptable and polite conversation starters. God knows we need it. I hope people learn to be more sensitive and less judgmental towards people who are staying home, instead of expecting everybody to have a label.

  13. I can’t think of a more appropriate time to share this with you than for an occasion like Mother’s Day.

    Happy Mother’s Day, maddest of mad mothers! Your children are lucky to have you :)

  14. I think there is more to what you are saying than about being a mother or a housewife. Growing up in the late seventies and eighties meant defying labels of “feminine roles” and “housewife.” Among the educated middle class it was uttered most derogatorily.

    So while trying to look beyond the labels assigned to women, we created yet another label. A housewife suddenly became someone who couldn’t make it or never really had what it takes. She has no depth, no intellect, no interests. But times are still changing.

    I think even if I was to hand out a card that said “housewife”, it should be seen as a choice a woman is free to make, not something that needs to be followed by justifications of what other things add to my personality.

    Isn’t that what gender freedom really means?

  15. You always stir up a storm in mind with your strong thoughts and beautiful writing. You know MM, the tribe of people who are ready to shed these tags is still very less, at least in my known circle. I admire you for exploring life so well. Most of the people know no other way than to just go office and work. They live the same kind of life coz they fail to experiment with something new, be it stay at home mom or anything else. Gud luck for your new creative field.

  16. a business card is to state to the person you encounter what you are looking for from them.
    So if you’re doing interior designing for someone… you don’t have to tell them abt how you’re a mother… you can simply show them your business card.
    You could have multiple cards. Of course, you don’t need a mom card since you’re not going to offer those services to everyone for money anyway. :P

    • A business card, to me, tells me what the person does, regardless of whether it is for free or money :)
      And hey, have you watched Vicky Donor? I’m seriously considering taking up the mommy business for money, on the side too!

      • I have a business card for my profession. It’s not the ONLY description of who I am, but it’s what I’m bringing to the table when I meet those people to whom I give those cards na! :)

        And nope… I heard it’s awesome, but been too caught up with a lot of things.
        if it makes you wanna be a mommy for money… I’ll have to take a look at it! :P

        • See, that is the point. I think most people miss having that something to say when you ask, What do you do? The visiting card is a metaphor, not to be taken literally. Because apparently, saying Mother, is not enough. You slog all day, you do what you have to, and yet, it’s not a valid response anymore.
          Many people confess to having no more to say. We’re trained to talk shop at all times. To ask about work.
          And if you are doing a number of other things, how do you number them all when its just polite conversation?

          • hmmm… never thought of it from the angle of “what do you do?”
            I immediately jumped to the real-life scenario where I use my business card.

            Besides… I’m like Chandler, no one really knows what I do! So it doesn’t matter what I tell them anyway! :P

  17. I follow a bunch of mommy blogs (that often address general stuff as well, but children usually take centrestage), and I am awed by how much that one word encapsulates. Ditto for my own mother who raised three lovely (I’m allowed to include myself, yes? :P) daughters through the whirl of school, dance lessons, PTA meetings, swimming meets, tears, tantrums, hard times and whatnot. I’m very proud of her.
    A belated Happy Mother’s Day to you! :)

  18. you know… i was thinking about what you’ve written.. and realized that it is the people who say that they’re not really doing anything. It really is up to them to be proud of what they’re doing if they’re happy with it na?

    So if the moms say ” oh nothing, i’m just at home” then that is just a reflection of what they think they’re doing, immaterial of how good they are at whatever else it is they do at home.

    Also, this article might help too : http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2011/01/17/how-to-answer-the-question-what-do-you-do/
    :)

    • I think it goes both ways – which is why I say you need to say it with grace and confidence. I also think you eventually get affected by the reception the line gets. For centuries women have stayed home. Why suddenly the reticence to accept it? Because its not longer received very well. Because we only talk in terms of money. So anything you don’t earn money through, charity, nursing an elderly family member, raising kids… all these are irrelevant and have no value. On the other hand if the same job was being done by a nurse or a cook who charges money, it would immediately be considered valid.

      Am off to read the link you’ve given.

  19. Pingback: Growmama Picks May 2012 » Grow Mama Grow

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