You are in a social setting, in a group of people you have never met before. Your spouse knows some of them, as it is a reception being put on by his employer. You are seated at a table with two other couples, and of course someone at the table looks over at you and politely asks:
"So, what do you do?"
Maybe this question is one you answer easily and the conversation smoothly carries on. For me, however, it is a question that pretty much always strikes dread in my heart, an awkward pause, and me frantically trying to think up a short but intelligent answer.
I mean, how do you say "I'm a stay at home mom, sort of, who grows a lot of my family's food, and runs a horse farm owned by someone else"? That is not the answer they are looking for when they pose the question. No, they are expecting something short and simple:
"I'm a nurse."
"I'm a teacher."
"I'm a speech therapist."
"I'm an engineer."
Those things they can understand. One or two words that give them a clear mental picture of what you do during the work day. Who you are. What your title is. Where you fit in.
But I can't seem to sum up my work day in a short, sweet phrase like that. Because when I say "I don't work," I cringe inside because I do work, I work really hard, I just don't have a job title and a paycheck to verify my usefulness. So I feel like I am lying if I say I don't work. Yet, if I say "I am an at-home mom", the reactions usually range from smug looks that seem to insinuate I am inferior to the working corporate woman, to accusations of being spoiled because I "don't have to work" (and therefore I have no usefulness and eat bonbons all day?).
So, last night, when placed in the above scenario that wasn't really hypothetical at all, my answer to the question evolved depending on the person asking it, and how well I perceived they knew my husband. One guy, who knows DH well and knows that I have no official job title to give, received the answer "Oh, well, I keep DH's underwear clean." (In my defense, the bonbons had been mentioned very shortly before I was asked the dreaded question.) He laughed and told me he knew that it must be a very difficult and time consuming task.
Another person, a very fashionable and lithe childless woman of professional standing, who mentioned she had 'rescued' two horses in the last few years got told that I "run a horse farm." Which did lead to a nice--and very surprising--conversation about how the professional lady finds it enjoyable and relaxing to do 'dirty' things like grooming horses and cleaning their stalls!!
The first grade teacher, wife of one of DH's fellow engineers, received the answer of "Well, I have mostly been at-home with our kids." Her children are the same age as my daughters, so we were able to talk about raising teen girls.
And, as the night went on, one frequent traveler with DH was retelling a tale about an incident that happened on their most recent trip where the group unexpectedly had their hotel conference room mistakenly entered by a 'woman in the entertainment industry'. While the group of engineers was trying to convince her she had the wrong room she got offended that they thought she was a prostitute and heatedly told them "I deserve some respect, I'm a dancer! I'm just trying to feed my kids, just like all you guys."
To which my husband says to the people currently at our table "I don't know about you guys, but I don't feed my family that way." They laugh, nod, realize that I haven't been part of the conversation, turn to me and ask the "So what do you do (for a living)?" question. Before my brain could stop it, my mouth said, "Feeding our family is my job."
Um, yes. I did, unintentionally, tell a few people that, apparently, I am a stripper. Try to back your way out of that one and explain that what you meant is that you grow a massive garden and from that garden your family is fed.
Now do you see why I find that "So what do you do?" question so scary? I can somehow take myself from boring wife with no paycheck to an exotic dancer, all in the course of a two-hour social gathering. This is why I stay home, far away from people!