Jenna and I are walking into Walmart to get some groceries and we pass by another mom with a small child hauling her bags into the car. Her child is about 18 months old. The mom looks tired and a bit frustrated. She looks just like me: ponytail in, unshowered, minimal makeup on, flip-flops and jeans. I find myself looking at her and wondering if we will catch each other's eyes and smile the smile of the stay at home mom: weary, friendly, I know how you feel.
She doesn't look up.
I am invisible.
So is the other mom.
Jenna and I proceed in and enter our world of Walmart or any other store at 11am on a weekday: filled with women like me and men and women older than 65. I went to the mall a few weeks ago in the evening and was stunned to see men- men in their 30s and 40s and 50s- walking alongside of me. The daytime crowd is slower, due to the needs of babies or the issues of old age. There is nothing powerful or brisk about us.
This idea of invisibleness has been with me for a few weeks now. It is my number one complaint about what I do each day: my job is invisible. I am invisible. My work is invisible. It takes up only negative space. It is really only noticed if something is NOT done: if there is no dinner made, clothes aren't washed and dried, dishes not put away. And not only is it invisible, it is constantly being un-done. The clothes get worn, the meals get eaten, the beds get slept in. There is no end to this cycle of doing and getting undone.
I am in my own private house, doing what I want to do and have to do, wearing what I want, eating what I want, away from any other measure of performance. The Stay at Home Mom Evaluator doesn't come through every six months to give me feedback... areas of competance, areas of excellence, and of course, the dreaded needs improvement category. And this is probably a good thing. For all the days my house is decent, the laundry is only a load behind and we have a relatively sane schedule, there are many days when all hell has broken loose and everything -the house, the kids, me- is a mess. Those days are the hardest because that's when you think: This is all I've got. This is my job and I'm failing.
There are days when this invisible-ness is a luxury and there are days that is it a curse. There are days when you feel like you are clawing your way through the day, wishing someone, anyone, would say to you: I see you! I see what you are doing! You are a real, thinking, feeling person with needs of your own and I really see you! I see what you are giving up to do this wonderful job of being a mom at home with your babies. I see. I know.
I feel sometimes that I should care more about what I look like when I go out. Most days, I do shower and do throw my makeup on and do wear clean, unstained clothing. But there are days that we've gotten a late start and Jenna has changed her outfit and shoes three times and I have to get out before the whole day is off-kilter. I should care that my hair looks terrible and my face is washed out. But you know what? Noone really looks at me. They may look at Jenna, 'cause of course she's so darn cute, but they're really not looking at ME. I'm okay that Jenna is the extension of me. I am comfortable that if she has a nice outfit on and her hair is brushed that WE look good. She's a reflection of almost everything I do and when she's good, I'm good.
And who am I looking good for? The other stay at home moms pushing carts in Walmart? The 70 year old man with the shorts and knee brace shopping with his wife with the tight perm? I know, it's for myself... and I have absolutely nothing against those who make it a priority to be well-put together when they leave the house. I was like that once, too, but somehow have slipped away.
To some extent this invisible-ness is a welcome relief after the public-ness of pregnancy. When you're belly is out to there and everyone just stares at you as you waddle and feels the urge to touch you and ask you questions- that is hard, too. I remember a sense of relief after Michaela was born that now people looked at her instead of me. Talked abut her instead of me. Touched her instead of me.
But now, six and a half years later, the invisible-ness can get crushing. Women whose job it is to spend time at home with their children have to really work at feeling like a whole person with dreams and goals and desires and competance. Our space is internal, private; our work is minute by minute, hour by hour; our strengths are patience, balance. There is no pats on the back from bosses. There are no big projects finished that really stretched your skills and you can say "Look what I did!". No coworkers to chit-chat with and take a quick coffee break with. Our home is our office. Our children are our product.
I read a beautiful analogy once that motherhood is like being a stonecutter on a great European cathedral. You may not see the work that this one man did for months and maybe even years, but the cathedral as a whole is there just the same for generations to admire and cherish. The stonecutter himself may not even live to see the cathedral finished in his lifetime but it is beautiful and breathtaking and permanent just the same.
My work, day to day, is invisible. My job is invisible. But my children and my family are the fruit of all my labors and when they go out into the world happy, healthy and whole, I know I have achieved a job well done: beautiful and breathtaking and permanent.
Look what I did!