I like to think that for the first time in my life, my priorities are in order. I am roughly a year away from finishing a four year degree, and hope to extend some other interests of mine, like yoga and herbal medicine and skin care, into business opportunities. My mom isn’t the type to give you big wet kisses and say, “I’m proud of you” out loud, but I can tell that she trusts me in a way she didn’t before. She’ll always be a strong personality who bosses others about just in the interest of getting things done “right”, but there’s a new level of comfort and confidence in how she talks to me. Same with my sister. She is very maternal and nurturing and has always played the big sister even though she is younger than me, but in the last year or so she asks for my advice more, listens when I explain things. It’s a high compliment that for the first time, she seems to be learning from me or at least looking to me to learn something. I’m really content and hopeful that between my degree and my other talents and interests, I can make a life for myself and of course pay it forward and help my family too.
However, going to work can sometimes be a humbling experience. Both towns I have worked in are small with a distinctly blue collar take on conservative values. I often find myself a rare oddity-a single woman who is not in a relationship, nor has any children, and is pursuing a higher education. I often find myself as the target of work place discrimination I have very little recourse against. In my former job, it was simply understood that one was going to work later shifts, all weekends, and have very little flexibility with days off unless you had a childcare related reason. One of my former co-workers exploited this shockingly, requesting and being granted all day shifts-7 a.m. to 4 p.m, no weekends, on the pretext that her daughter had cheerleading practice. All right,hunky-dory. But when this plum schedule continued past the peewee football season, we all smelled a rat. I, in the meantime, struggled to complete all my classwork on my two days off, and really felt I would have to drop out.
Where I live, a woman my age is expected to have been a mother, in some cases for quite some time. As I mentioned in an earlier post, most of my relatives, former classmates, and peers became mothers in their late teens and early twenties. It’s uncomfortable for some people that I am 25, unmarried and childless, and I can feel them all but sniffing me and thinking, “Who the Hell does she think she is?” Or just not knowing what to talk to me about since we can’t compare notes on teething, what to cook for dinner when two of your kids like different foods, and the expensive demands of elementary school teachers. Since I go to school online rather than on campus, my life doesn’t have the vicarious exoticism of a swinging single going out partying, either, so not much to talk about there. They don’t envy me, they don’t hate me, but I am not part of the club so I am treated with a certain coldness. My life is assumed to be a lot easier, in their eyes, unfairly so.
A couple of days ago, a co-worker was venting about dropping her kids off at school before work. We both came in at 9 am. “My day, ” she announced pointedly, “didn’t begin here at 9 o’clock.” As if I was eating Fruit Loops in fleece pajamas until I had to come in to work. I most certainly wasn’t, but if I was, so what? I think fitting in a life of quality time with my family, keeping my grades up in school, practicing yoga, and other pursuits is something to be proud of given all I have been through. Finding contentment is a blessing.
“You know,” I told her, “I think everyone’s life, whether they have children or not, has its own demands before, during, and after work.”
“Oh, of course, of course!” she sputtered, and turned her back. Life is not any easier or more fun when you are single and childless. I have busy, exhausting days that leave me physically and mentally sponge-like. I run out of time and can’t fit in everything I planned to do. I plan to have children one day, I cherish the idea of it. However, I hope I never say or do anything as obnoxious as the women I work and have worked with towards a woman who, like I am now, is investing her time and money in her future and in her talents. That takes dedication and fortitude, thoughtfulness and mindfulness, that I believe will only serve a woman well when and if she does have children. And if she doesn’t end up having or want to have any children, date, or get married, that doesn’t mean she should resign herself to a lifetime of stilted conversations, flippant comments, nosy questions, and unfair assumptions. I don’t know the answer to this one. I just know what I experience, and I know that people would be a lot more sympathetic when I am sick, when I have a busy workload at school, if I had some baby pictures to show them.