A few months ago, when I was picking up the children at school, another mother I knew 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 really didn't have an answer handy—she blurted out the reason for her question. It seemed 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."
The recorder smiled indulgently. Then she wrote: "Occupation: Housewife."
"Oh, now," protested Emily. "I'd rather be listed as a mother."
"We don't list 'mother' as an occupation. 'Housewife' covers it," said the recorder emphatically.
I forgot all about Emily's story until the day I found myself in the same situation, this time at our Town Hall. The clerk as obviously a career woman, poised, efficient, and possessed of a high-sounding title like "Official Interrogator" or "Town Registrar."
"And what is your occupation?" she probed.
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, 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 money."
There was an increasing note of respect in the clerk's voice as she completed the form, stood up, and personally escorted me to the cl,.or.
As I drove into our driveway, buoyed up by my glamorous new career, I was greeted by my lab assistants—ages 13, 7 and 3. And from 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 .. ."
Home . . . what a glorious career. Especially when there's a title on the door!