Getting Acquainted: What do you do?

My husband is a lawyer and every so often we have to go to parties and events with his coworkers or clients. At this point in his career most people know us and know our situation but occasionally an unfamiliar person will turn his (or her) attention to me and ask the dreaded question: "So Elena, what do you do?" Sigh.

I sigh, not because I don't love being a stay-at-home mom, but because of the condescending follow-up that inevitably follows: "Oh," they'll say with a smile, "well that's the most important job of all, isn't it?" (Or some variation thereof.) I'm probably not giving these people the benefit of the doubt when I refer to them as condescending. I'm sure any of them who have kids mean this to a certain extent. But the truth is that once I say it, I am often dismissed out of hand and it's assumed that I don't have much to add to the conversation. (This is a problem for me as I always have a lot to add to the conversation ;)

To save you from the embarrassment of having to ask this question, I thought I'd tell you a little bit about my work background. (If you're interested in getting to know me even further, check out my post entitled, Getting Acquainted: Where Are You From?)

As an adolescent I was scared of a lot of things. Well, new things really. I didn't like new things. I suspect this stemmed from all of the moving around that I did. I also suspect that it was guilt about making me move around that kept my mom from forcing me to do things that I didn't want to do. One notable exception was my first job working as a "bus girl" in a restaurant. As I recall she bribed me (with a trip to "rummage-a-rama," no less; I loved thrifting from a young age apparently).

Well thank goodness she did. I ended up working at that restaurant for five years (through the rest of high school and part of college). I eventually stopped bussing and started hostessing. I was good at it. It gave me confidence. It also gave me a means of support that I knew I could fall back on in hard times. I left that restaurant when I was twenty and that's only because it closed. I went directly to another one where I hostessed and then waitressed through the remainder of college.

Speaking of college, I was an English major. (Which means I know I'm not supposed to start a sentence with a conjunction.  But I'm a rebel.) Throughout college my parents (who were also English majors) begged (implored!) that I also get a teaching credential. I however, was steadfast: I was not going to be a teacher. So upon graduating I set out into the world, English degree in hand.

This was not a high point for me. Up until graduation, my entire life had been carefully scripted; I just needed to follow along. Now all of a sudden I was expected to write my own story and I was having a serious case of writer's block.

So I did what any self-respecting chicken would do: I found a way to put off a real job search for another year. I became a nanny. A live-in nanny. In New York City. And I hated it. The irony of my hatred is not lost on this stay-at-home-mommy. In fact for many years afterwards I wasn't sure I even wanted to be a mommy, but more about that another time...

So from nannying it was back to the restaurant biz where I hostessed and waited tables. Then I got my big break. In a feat of bravery, I decided to apply for a job at a temp agency--not as a temp but as a person who places temps at other companies--and I actually got the job. It was 1993 and one of the main reasons I even took the job was the lack of computers on the desks. I had what can only be described as an irrational fear of computers. I was convinced I could *never* learn to operate one. There would be computers on those desks within a year of my initial interview. And I survived to tell the tale.

This job was a hallmark for me in many ways. First of all, it paid a salary. There were paid vacations and bonuses. I took the el to my downtown office every morning. I even wore a suit. Needless to say I felt very grown-up and important. And I was good at the job (even, perhaps especially, the computery parts). This job taught me confidence and problem-solving. It also taught me that I was valuable. Unfortunately, no matter how good I was, I never really loved it. I wanted to do something that I had a passion for and placing temps wasn't it.

Yup. That's me in my (ill-fitting) suit with the shoulder pads. And my socks and tennies. Nice look, eh? Don't worry, I changed into heels at the office. The shoulder pads remained on, I'm afraid.
So guess what I decided to do? Go ahead, guess. Did you guess go back to school for a teaching credential like my parents told me to? Well, you'd be right.

Fast forward two years. I completed my education classes, did my student teaching and was hired by the school where I did it. Teaching was the most challenging, most rewarding, most exhausting job I've ever had. Even in the best schools, the first years of teaching are tough but I taught in a Chicago Public high school. A large percentage of my students were not native speakers of English. An equally large percentage were gang members. I saw things in that school that would blow your mind. Despite this, I loved my students. "Classroom management" (fancy jargon for keeping order in the classroom) was always easy for me. I found that if you were honest and warm and respectful (and funny) that the kids would return the favor. And they did. But it was still the hardest job I ever had and when we moved for my husband's work, I decided not to return to the classroom.

After settling into our new home I answered an ad: "Freelance writer looking for an assistant." Although I had an degree in English, I had few other relevant skills. I wrote a hell of a cover letter, though, and I got the job. For the next eight months I traveled all over Southeast Florida doing interviews and research for articles that she would eventually write. In some cases I even wrote the actual story though, per our agreement, the byline was always hers. It was an incredibly interesting job but the pay was too low and eventually I went back into the classroom.

My final job before becoming a mom was teaching eighth grade reading at a school outside of Ft. Lauderdale. It was a far cry from my Chicago days: The school had a lot more money. The equipment always worked. The kids' parents were involved. The list goes on and on. Within six months of taking the job I was pregnant with my first daughter. This made for some interesting times with my eighth graders. (It was a toss-up as to who was more hormonal, me or them.)

After I had my daughter I chose not to return to work. My husband's job is demanding and unpredictable. We ultimately decided that the children would benefit from the consistency of having me home. Now though, with my little ladies getting older, I'm starting to think about me again and what I want to do with myself when they're not around. I have a few ideas and blogging is a part of that. Thanks for being here for the next chapter of my story. Here's hoping it's a good one!


  1. No wonder you're such a great writer!!!! Thanks for sharing!!!

  2. You are such a beautiful writer! Seriously, you have me hanging on every word ...

    ... and thanks for sharing your story with us!



  3. Always have a lot to add to the conversation... yeah, me too! ;)

    I also have done some waitressing. Gives you a little perspective.. it's not always easy! I much prefer working front desk in hotels! Although the tips are nice... ;)

    I guess I always knew I wanted to be a teacher though. But with some screw ups between my community college and the 4 year college I ended up with a degree in chemistry/spanish/christian ministries (yes, you read that right) and not a teaching degree. I spent a year in Seattle working as a login clerk/low man on the totem pole at a chemistry lab before I went back to get my actual teaching cert. And then I ended up teaching night school at an alternative high school before my first son was born. I saw some interesting things too, but it wasn't Chicago... ;) Wow!

    Once again... so nice to meet you! :)

    PS. You really should add a "subscribe" button on here somewhere!

  4. All these things make me adore you even more. I would never write you off as merely a SAHM. I can't wait to see where your life and blog take you next.


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