Mrs C. Probably wasn’t that surprised when I dropped out of school at sixteen, just like my brother before me.We had had the one-sided conversation many times before. Not just she and I, the careers adviser had tried it too. It was a conversation that frequently came up and still occurs from time to time even now.
What do you want to do with your life?
The answer still creates a degree of awkwardness but I no longer feel embarrassed by it. It has made people laugh, tear up, or tear their hair out. I’ll admit it took me some time to warm to the idea, but the more I studied the word of God and came to know Him, the more certain I felt myself become.
At fifteen, sitting across the desk from Mrs C. in a stuffy library, I knew from the way that she peered over her glasses at me, pen at the ready, that she was about to ask that loathed question. I tried to look calm as I racked my brains for acceptable ways to word my answer. None were forthcoming. It was too warm. Stifling even.
“What are you thinking about doing when you leave school?”
Avoid eye-contact with the hovering pen.
“I’d like to have a family of my own.”
At that age, there was no particular guy in mind. To be honest, I wasn’t even interested in anything other than a platonic relationship with any of my male friends. I just knew that one day, I would like a family.
“You need to have a career.”
Why? She had a brood of boys. Surely she knew that men need helpmeets and children don’t raise themselves?
I was punted to the careers adviser in the faint hope that I’d be inspired not to waste all that potential, awakened to sense before I wasted the golden opportunities before me.
It didn’t work.
I felt embarrassed by this point, so I let him rabbit on. He asked what I enjoyed. Writing and photography weren’t careers. Had I considered medicine? No.
“I’m not bothered about a career.”
The oh-dear-so-that’s-why-this-one’s-been-sent-to-me look passed briefly across his face.
“So what do you want to do?”
Again, the answer perched awkwardly on the edge of the desk between us. My soul sank.
* * *
Flash forward a little over a year to a coffee morning and a creepy old man was wolfing down cake and trying to sound intelligent. He asked me what I wanted to be.
“I think maybe translation would be cool, but I’d really like to be a wife and a mother.”
The scorn in his response stung a little and I could feel the colour rising in my cheeks. But when I turned to speak to the woman beside me, a woman who has been a spiritual mother to me, the teary-eyed smile she wore gave me hope and the words she spoke were a balm for the shame that the old man’s scoffing had cut into my skin.
Maybe one day I’ll tell her how much she means to me and how she encourages me in ways she’ll never know.
* * *
Now four years later, I have days when that dream seems stupid in the face of mockery. I know that I’m a smart independent female and I can make my own way in the world. But the hope lives.
Yesterday I sat down to eat with the members of a church I was visiting. Conversation does not come easily, but I found the courage to chat with the lady sitting across from me. I asked her what she did. She gestured at the two little boys by her side and gave an apologetic smile.
“I’m a stay at home mum — but I do other things. These two are a full-time job.”
I grinned. In part it was the boys’ antics. In part it was her answer. Being a mother is what she does. But there was an underlying pang that she felt the need to assure me that this isn’t all that she does.
Feminism, what have you done to us?
Dear lady, I would like to say that I’m glad that you said that. One day I hope to say it too. Know that I was sincere when I said it was a good thing.
To those of you who, like me, are not there yet, don’t be embarrassed by the desire. It’s ok to have a career — I’d like to be a translator — but it’s equally ok to want a family. This is a natural and God-given thing. It is not oppression, but freedom. It’s a lifelong commitment to a good thing.
Until then, to my own mother; to my mother in the faith; and to the lady at lunch who have all told me that raising a family was the best thing they could have spent their lives on, thank you. I am so very glad that you told me so because I am no longer embarrassed to say that one day, I want to be just like you.