“So, what do you do?”
I was standing by the carefully decorated, stocked bar at a private party at Juilliard. It was a friend’s birthday and I’d thrown on a black dress, hastily applied eyeliner, and left the kids with Tenzin before bedtime, which I hated missing. There was already a crowd three-deep to get the signature cocktail of the night as music floated around us, the city lights peeking in through the floor-to-ceiling windows, a grand piano and other instruments waiting expectantly in the middle of the room for the big performance to come.
I didn’t know how to answer.
I never knew how to answer.
If I told this acquaintance that I was a stay-at-home mom, I knew he’d either look bored and quickly search for someone more interesting to talk to or laud my decision and say, “It’s the most important job there is!”
But really, was I “just” a stay-at-home? Was anyone?
For one thing, I was rarely at home. I was pushing the double stroller up and down Third Avenue, dodging elderly ladies and their ancient tiny dogs, on the way to music and gymnastics. I was walking the twins across Central Park all the way to the American Museum of Natural History once a week for hands-on science-and-nature class. I was running them to playgroups at various homes. Playdates. Preschool.
In between, there were the complicated processes of kid life management. Doctor appointments. Dentist. Eye doctor. Allergist. Was it time to sign up for camp? Flu shots? Birthday party gifts? Was I “enriching” them enough in their various activities? Were they falling behind? Did they need speech, occupational therapy, or physical therapy? Did they seem gifted in any sports yet? Was there a sign-up I’d missed for the next fall?
And wait, let me stop all that and be in the moment and play on the floor until they get sick of me because it all goes by too quickly.
I was on multiple boards, planning events, raising money for charity. I was dealing with my home: making friends with the A/C guy and learning all about his wife’s infertility problems as he changed the filters overhead, calling the plumber for that toilet, trying to find some sort of carpet-cleaning service. I wrote articles, read books like Justin Halpern’s Sh*t My Dad Says, organized girls’ dinners. I cooked for and with the kids, roasting chickens before preschool like Stacey and Connie had for me because my kids were always up early. I experimented with the various dishes I could make using olive oil, garlic, and ginger. Ordered FreshDirect. I was going to Weight Watchers meetings, school alumni events, social events, bookstore readings, and kids’ birthday parties.
Did this hedge fund guy standing in front of me in a suit and Hermès tie care about any of that? How could I sum up my entire life in one brief answer?
“I’m a stay-at-home mom right now.”
“How about you?” I asked.
“I work at a hedge fund.”
I felt utterly pathetic.
I found a home video of the twins as toddlers recently.
I could see myself in the background, racing like a maniac, packing for an upcoming trip, brow furrowed. Slim, with short, very dark-brown hair and wearing a fitted pair of pants and V-neck sweater, I was grabbing things and putting them into big boxy black duffels, moving back and forth, back and forth across the room.
The kids were smiling, laughing, preening for the camera. I wasn’t paying any attention to them. I could literally see myself missing the moment, locked in my own head, crossing things off the endless to-do list.
I thought about that image of myself—frowning, busy, distracted, caught up in taking care of what was next instead of what was right there. I wanted to jump back in time and reorient myself toward the scene I was really in. What mattered.