It was your usual gathering of over-educated, sustainability zealots. We nestled our way under the porch and out of the rain as we shared stories of life over cups of local brews and homemade gluten-free cookies. Party conversations are story time. Sometimes they're striking, other times they are full of the the delicious ordinary we call "life". I've come to realize that most people have a streak of the eccentric in their bones, waiting for someone to realize it.
Like Bob for example. Bob doesn't own a car. He biked ten miles in the rain that evening to hang out. He'd pick his ear and wipe it on his dirty shirt throughout the course of our conversation. He likes to make it up to the Midwest Renewable Energy convention and camp when he can, but it's a 70 mile bike ride. His life is busier now that he's retired than ever before even though he used to work at the Capitol pushing conservation and sustainable legislature. He is vague about what keeps him so busy now that he doesn't work. He asks about me.
People always want to talk about themselves until you ask something they don't want to answer.
But more striking than Bob was a woman I chatted with later that evening. She pushed greying, un-dyed curls back from her face and kept switching her glass between her hands. I forget her name so I'm calling her Lela.
Lela used to work as a copywriter. Now she works for a publishing company east of Madison. Lela loves her job but she recently just got back into the industry. What took you away initially, I ask.
She looks up at me from her drink sheepishly. Well, we had our son, and I know it's bad but I just wanted to stay home with him. But I did freelance work on the side, she adds quickly.
I'm shocked and not entirely sure why a mother has just apologized to me for working from home to spend time with her son.
Is that really what our society has turned into? A mother has to feel ashamed of wanting to quit her job to stay home and take care of her child? Why do we have such a small view of what it means to be a mother, that intelligent, hard-working, vibrant women like Lela apologize for choosing it?
I assured her that I thought it that was wonderful, but who really cares about what a stranger thinks about your life anyway?
Lela continues. She felt insecure about stepping back into the work force after being out of it for about 20 years. Much to her surprise, however, she was hired at the publishing company she now works at. I'm not surprised at all, one brief interaction with Lela tells me she's highly intelligent, passionate and full of life.
Motherhood has weakened her sense of self-esteem.
Shouldn't it be the opposite? Shouldn't she take pride in undertaking one of the most selfless, most challenging and potentially rewarding careers of all time? And what's more, she stopped because she wanted to be around to raise her son. Shouldn't she be able to do that without fear of social condemnation and without apologizing to a perfect stranger?
I'm slightly baffled.
The most eccentric and bizarre thing I heard that night wasn't that Bob doesn't shower to conserve water and is not-so-secretly disgusted with his neighbors for owning cars. It was the revelation that even in what I'd like to think of as our country's most "progressive" circles, we apologize for being mothers.