The Most Dangerous Animal
A few months ago, when I was picking up the children at school, another mother I knew well, rushed up to me. Emily was fuming with indignation.
“Do you know what you and I are?” she demanded.
Before I could answer – and I didn’t really have one handy – she blurted out the reason for her question.
She had just returned from renewing her driver’s license at the County Clerk’s office. Asked by the woman recorder to state her “occupation,” Emily had hesitated, uncertain how to classify herself.
“What I mean is,” explained the recorder, “Do you have a job, or are you just a . . . ?”
“Of course I have a job,” snapped Emily. “I’m a mother.”
“We don’t list ‘mother’ as an occupation. ‘Housewife’ covers it,” said the recorder emphatically.
I forgot all about her story until one day I found myself in the same situation, this time at our own Town Hall.
The Clerk asked: “And what is your occupation?”
What made me say it, I do not know. The words simply popped out. “I’m. . .a Research Associate in the field of Child Development and Human Relations.” The clerk paused, ball-point pen frozen in mid-air, and looked up as though she had not heard right. I repeated the title slowly, emphasizing the most significant words. Then I stared with wonder as my pompous pronouncement was written in bold, black ink on the official questionnaire.
“Might I ask,” said the clerk with new interest, “just what you do in your field?”
Coolly, without any trace of fluster in my voice, I heard myself reply, “I have a continuing program of research [what mother doesn’t] in the laboratory and in the field [normally I would have said indoors and out]. I’m working for my Masters [the whole family] and already have four credits [all daughters]. Of course, the job is one of the most demanding in the humanities [any mother care to disagree?] and I often work 14 hours a day [24 is more like it]. But the job is more challenging than most run-of-the-mill careers and the rewards are in satisfaction rather than just money.” There was an increasing note of respect in the clerk’s voice as she completed the form, stood up, and personally ushered me to the door.
As I drove into our driveway buoyed up by my glamorous new career, I was greeted by my lab assistants – age 13, 7, and 3. And upstairs, I could hear our new experimental model (six months) in the child-development program, testing out a new vocal pattern. I felt triumphant. I had scored a beat on bureaucracy. And I had gone down on the official records as someone more distinguished and indispensable to mankind than “just another. . .”
This page was last updated November 3, 2000.