I’ve had a lot of jobs in my life. I started working when I was 16 in a clothing store. I didn’t like it. I thought folding shirts over and over was boring. I did learn a lot of classic rock because that is what Bob, the manager, loved to play. Green-eyed lady, ocean lady. I liked what we sold in the store, very 90s surfer/skater high school clothes. Big, thick Champion sweatshirts with the long cuff, Billabong shorts and Quiksilver T-shirts. But it was a good job for an 11th grader. My friend worked in the Kids R Us in the same strip mall and our other best friend worked in Baskin Robbins in the center of town. There she would make us tiny sundaes on the tasting spoons and when no customers were in the store, for entertainment, she’d lightly smack the hanging bunch of bananas and we’d watch a cloud of fruit flies softly emerge.
Around the time I was first looking for a job, just before I started at the clothes retailer, a brand-new Barnes & Noble was built on Route 22 near where I lived. In 1991 or 1992, being a suburban New Jersey kid, I had never heard of Barnes & Noble (which is hard to believe now) but my mom had. She took me to interview thinking it would be a good fit for a crazy bookworm such as I was. I didn’t get the job. I think they thought I was too young and inexperienced.
Eventually I went to college. I tried to get a job in a local bookstore. The owner was a large, intimidating (to me), older man. He asked me what the last book I had read was. It was 1995, or so, and I answered truthfully. It was Interview with the Vampire or The Vampire Lestat or one of those delicious Anne Rice books that I was really into at the time. (I have since given them all away except for Violin which I keep because Anne Rice signed it.) He said, “Yeah, you and everybody else,” and dismissed me. I got into my red 1990 Chevy Cavalier and quietly drove away. He had no idea of the depth and breadth of my reading but gave me no other chance to prove myself. I was not outspoken and didn’t stand up for myself in most situations back then. I was easily steamrolled.
I ended up working in the tiny candy store in the college town’s little mall. I loved working the cash register, helping customers, wrapping up little chocolate treats from within the case, weighing bags of jelly beans and even counting out the till at the end of the day. Labeling myself as an English and humanities person, I always thought I was hopeless at math, but I loved learning all the little math tasks that go into running a small business. I discovered there was a little more math potential in me than I had thought. I was often left alone to run the store for my whole shift and often had to close and lock up for the night. I developed a sense of responsibility and capability that I’m grateful for. It was a good job.
I’m going down this memory lane of work to prove to myself that I have always and still do work. I have been labeled a stay-at-home mom for the last fourteen years. And yet, is that true? I quit teaching first-grade when I was pregnant with my son, my first child. He was born in August and I did not return to school after that summer. Instead, when he was a few months old, I started taking Wilton cake decorator classes at the Michael’s store. (I also took an improv acting class during that time.)
After taking all three courses (there are four now, I believe), I got a job at that same Michael’s teaching the class. After my husband came home, I would load up my three-ring binders, my super-heavy stand mixer and my example cake into the car and drive to Michael’s. Once there, I would use one of their tiny red shopping carts to push all my stuff into the corner classroom. I also did demos out in the store on occasion.
I have called myself a writer for most of my life. I have always been obsessed with books. I was so hungry for them that I taught myself to read by age four so I didn’t have to wait for someone to read to me anymore. And so during the time that I taught cake decorating, I was also going to writer’s conferences. I dabbled in my own writing, never taking it seriously and continued journaling as I had been doing off and on since age ten. Around this time I also started volunteering for our local, awesome, non-profit writing organization.
About a month before our daughter was born in 2007, I got a job as bookkeeper for the non-profit writing organization. I would work as bookkeeper from home, part-time for the next six years. And yet, why did I still consider myself and label myself as a purely stay-at-home mom? I was being paid for work. Was I not respecting my own work? I didn’t work full-time at an outside location. And for that reason, I often felt a little bit less than. A little bit ashamed. But why did I care? What did I not like about being labeled a stay-home mom? And why did I care what other people thought of me and my choices?