Once I went to a conference mainly attended by male scientists. I was there to assist with an alumni event as I am clearly not a scientist. Did you know that? My brain is really just a dormant mass of pink slime that has no room for anything that does not relate to chicken soft tacos. I am constantly corrected by people who hear my big mouth delivering a scientific fact to which I hear, “NO! That does not cure rashes! You. Go. To. A. Doctor.” to which I always respond: “Haha! Just kidding!” and then stuff my face with nachos so I can speak no more.
At the conference, I was sitting in a ballroom after a lecture had taken place when one of the scientists started asking me about the talk and of course, I said that I wasn’t a scientist because that is not one of the things I can ever pretend to be, especially to someone who has been educated in the sciences and would never mispronounce “uranus” just to be funny.
Tangent: When I was 15, I attended the Junior Statesmen of America program at Stanford and on one of the very long plane rides home from Palo Alto, I wore my Stanford sweatshirt and the guy next to me asked about my classes and instead of telling the truth, I talked about being a student and pulled from my short time there what exactly I did know about: where to order food on campus (sub-sections: Mexican, Chinese, smoothies, etc.) and the kama sutra books they sold in the bookstores (some in color!). I bet he could tell my chubby teenage face was lying and was kind enough not to out me, lest I spend the rest of the LA to Hawaii flight crying because I was big lying liar who lies.
In that dimly-lit ballroom, the man and I started chatting and I told him about my husband and son Nathan who was still a toddler then. He was an engineer from Alabama. He talked about his kids and how his wife had stayed at home and homeschooled their children. Somehow the conversation shifted to how great homeschooling was and how awful—and secular—the public school system would be for my son.
“You and your husband should really try to live on one income,” he said. It was as if he had parted the sea for me and at the end of the wet, sandy channel glowed the one sentence that he wanted me to hear because from the few minutes we had chatted, he decided I was living my life all wrong.
I didn’t defend myself then, maybe because I was on a work trip, my first work trip with a plane and hotel room and fancy reimbursed Eggs Benedict, maybe because my boss was a few seats away and I was still new at the role or maybe I was too shocked and dumbfounded to say anything. Maybe he was trying to be helpful, but the way he said it, especially in the place he said it—in the echoing Thunderdome of the Y-Chromosome (Chromo-dome? Thunder-some?)—it still stings today.
I wouldn’t have been there unless I was there on business. I wouldn’t have been there unless I had a job. I didn’t choose of all places a small casino hotel in Reno, Nevada because it was my dream to listen to men talk about innovations in wood heat contracting.
He went on about how it was my responsibility to stay at home and of course that was the best decision any family could make because it had worked so well for him. This is how I answered him and have answered anyone who has told me what I should do because it is what they do
”THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE HIGHLANDER!!!”, “That sounds like it works well for your family.”
As new people filed in for the next lecture and I had to head out, the man said to me, “You are a very beautiful woman.” And then that made sense, as if the whole purpose of this long work-shaming diatribe was to end with a one-two sucker punch hit on me. Shaming doesn’t make me swoon (MONEY DOES! No it doesn’t. But just send some money my way just to experiment).
I need to work in a paying jobby job because my husband and I both work in the lucrative field of higher education () and we live in a city where the costs are phenomenally high, the taxes are all on the wrong items, and I know I will need $150 to repair the iPad my youngest just cracked. With a case on! GRRR! I know I could have been a better parent and I don’t know, read to him, instead of handing him the iPad and saying, “You know how to work Angry Birds Star Wars, fly away young padawan and let Mommy watch TV in peace,” but this is my life.
I also really enjoy the job I have now. I really love going to work and flexing my brain and getting paid. This is what works for me and what works for our family.
My kids go to daycare full-time, Nathan part-time when school is in session. They are surrounded by caregivers who love them, kids who have grown with them, loved them like brothers. It makes my jaded heart grow two coal sizes whenever I hear about Nathan’s many girlfriends, or watch TJ bear hug the lovely women who are his moms during the day.
I have thought about staying home and even resented the fact that it’s not feasible for us right now. But it doesn’t do anything for me to feed into that or listen to any voice that isn’t supportive whether they’re from gross men at conferences or parents at the playground who name their kids after European cities and know everything about parenting! So everyone must take heed to these full bush people and their thoughts on placenta smoothies! Take notes! I’ll be at the bar!
The only hecklers I want are the ones I gave birth to and believe me, these boys are a very, very tough crowd.