Exploded Chestnut

Since I was a teenager, I have been an avid volunteer. I have worked in the courts with minors in the justice system, have mentored kids at the state mental hospital, have coordinated activities in old folks homes and have taught life skills to prison inmates.

Also, aside from volunteering, I have worked since I was 14. Some stupid jobs, some real jobs. I have spent 8 years in a career where I became proficient in my skills and wrote for a national trade magazine. I have handled amazingly complex logistics within a budget and tight timelines.

And, I have a sweet bike! (thank you Napolean Dynamite!)

Then I decided to stay home…full-time… to raise a child, soon to be two. I left the workforce entirely, thinking I would never go back, and somehow got out of touch with the fine art of soundbytes. You know the kind, the soundbytes that start every new networking lunch or first time client conversation. The idle chit chat of finding common ground.

Fast forward to last week. I had sent out some feelers to find a volunteer position that might fit my skill set and my need to be attached to a community outside of the suburban, stay-at-home, mormondom I found myself enveloped in. My husband watched my small child one night while I went to orientation for an organization I thought would have merit. An organization that helped single mothers get back on their feet, pursue education and find meaningful work that could support their families.

From the moment I walked into the building, I realized my black hoodie, maternity pants and $8.00 red sandals from DI did not fit with the suits and leather handbags that sat next to me in volunteer orientation. I actually saw the lady next to me look at the bottom of my shoe and the remains of the DI price sticker. (Yes, I probably should have taken that off.) I didn’t look bad; I just didn’t look like them. Although I used to dress like that (I actually love suits), I instantly felt like I was an imposter in a foreign land.

The executive director looked at me and asked if I was there for services. Meaning, was I one of the moms looking to get out of a low paying job. Hm. Embarrassing.

I said no, I was here for the volunteer training to be a mentor to the moms in question.

“And who do you work for?” I looked at all the suits in the room and shrugged.


“And what is it that you do?” She said looking me up and down. Truthfully, the question stumped me. No one asks me that anymore. And do…what a dumb word. It isn’t even really a verb. What do you do?

What did she want me to say? How do you sum up trying to balance 12 – 15 hours a day with a two year old with my own needs and interests while supporting a husband and the 140 primary children between 18 months to 12 years old who constantly seem to be on my mind as a Primary President? Should I say I do the laundry, cook, clean, laugh, eat bon bons? What do I do? And why is it so hard to fit into a soundbyte when a lady in a fancy suit asks me what I do with the implication of “besides being a mom?” I had plenty of things I used to say, but what did I say now?!

“I am a mom.” I finally said.

Yikes. It kinda reminded me of the conversation I had with my LDS Bishop when he came to visit our family after we first moved into the neighborhood. I think he thought he summed up my stay-at-home life by asking if loved to shop at Target…Sigh.

My life used to nicely fit into a nutshell. I do________. Now I feel my answer is as chaotic and undefinable as the time I cooked chestnuts in my sister’s oven. We opened the door to find the chestnut had burst their shells and exploded all over! I feel like an exploded chestnut who’s burst outside the easy soundbyte. I buy designer shoes at DI, spend alot of time at Target, stay home full-time with my child AND have a legitimate professional skill set. Although somehow, to some people, having a soundbyte of “being a mom” seems to negate all those other legitimate skills. Why can’t I be AND instead of a just?

Once in an job interview, I was asked what one of my greatest skill was (personally I think a much more telling question then what do you do). I simply said, “I bring order to chaos.”

Maybe that can be my new soundbyte when I am asked what I do.

I bring order to chaos…whether in my suit or in my 8.00 DI shoes. 🙂


  1. says

    Very cool. I hate to think of you from the perspective of “down someone’s nose,” but I know you can hold your own. You know those fun (?) YW’s lessons about Talents? I’ve never shined much in the way of performing arts, but my mom used to report to my teachers that my talent was “making order out of chaos.” No wonder I like you!

    Have you seen this t-shirt: I think I’m confused… wait, maybe I’m not.

  2. says

    Oh man, reading your description of going into that room just makes me cringe. I think the hardest thing about those types of situations is that people who have never been mothers really can’t fathom what it is that mothers do, or what myriad valuable skills we have the (sometimes forced/unwelcome) opportunities to develop. I remember thinking a few years ago that if I was ever to be in a position to hire/employ people, I would want to hire moms because they get the jobs done! Becoming a full-time mom really required a mental shift for me. And I think it was compounded by the fact that it wasn’t until the birth of #2 that I had to face that reality. When Z was 3 months old I started grad school, so it was easy to maintain a me-as-mom/me-as-independent-person duality. I finished grad school less than two weeks before Clive was born, and suddenly I was “just” a mom, and now to TWO kids.

    I think it is nice to have outside pursuits and interests, but not so we can justify our existence to people who want to ask us what we do–we shouldn’t have to. The unfortunate truth is that society doesn’t value jobs/tasks that are unpaid. It’s not exactly a “fun” read, but it is informative and will raise your motherly/feminist hackles, but The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued is an excellent book.

    Okay, I’ll stop taking over your comments now.

    Oh, are you still interested in volunteering with that group?

  3. says

    Oh I wish I were there at that meeting because then we could leave giggling….lol….I want your job…shopping at Target seems like a great life…(I know you do more!!!) Working is overrated anyhow and most woman are unhappy with their jobs so they have to brag about what they do to make themselves feel better and they dress well for the same reasons.

    I am headed for the same career myself here but I think I might be the one that brings chaos to the order. 😛

  4. says

    The word mom has such an ambiguity to it. I have no problem with single people and their ideas of motherhood or with mothers who work for personal fulfillment or out of need. What always unsettles me is the feeling that in some circles it is expected that I have my full time job as a mom and a full time job outside the home and some great hobbies I am working on the side.

    Being a mom fulltime is enough for me right now! Period. Perhaps that is below my potential, but it is where my heart currently is.

  5. says

    well written! I’m going to use that line in my next job interview (order to chaos) since that sums it up. Must be the INTJ thing. (-:

    Gotta love the people that judge by these shallow things. Your outfit proved you were spending time doing something besides staring at yourself in the mirror. I have a sister that made a special Mom apron for herself recently and she wears it everywhere. It is functional (not cheesy) and has pockets and other stuff to hold whatever she might need – tape, scissors, string, band aid, etc. Fuh-ney. She said it is her uniform for her job. I think I might start marketing it. (-:

    Of note is that every place I’ve worked so far have had an interesting twist – the women who wore the most expensive suits were paid the least and had the least responsibility.

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