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. 🙂