“So, you’re unemployed.”
The words rang in my ears. I recognized each word but somehow the way that woman strung them together just didn’t make sense to me. My world froze in that moment.
A routine, simple mammogram. Not my preferred way to spend a afternoon but I know it’s what is best for me so I made the appointment. It was an imaging office I had never been to before so there was the prerequisite mountain of paperwork to be filled out. The receptionist handed me the clipboard and a pen with a two-foot wide pink daisy duct taped to it.
“Nobody is going to accidentally walk away with this thing in their pocket,” I told the receptionist as I held up the pen with the huge daisy theft control device adhered to it.
“You can go sit over there and fill out your paperwork,” she said curtly without acknowledging my obvious compliment about her pen safety procedures.
I walked over to the waiting area and scanned the room for the best possible seat. There was a woman coughing uncontrollably at one end of the room and I thought, Sounds like pneumonia, probably here for a chest x-ray, and I made my way over to the other side of the room where a mom was sitting with her two-year-old son. I sat down and smiled just as the mom reached into her bag for a toy. No, it wasn’t a toy, it was a baseball. A real baseball. She handed it to the two-year-old and he started throwing it around the room.
The mother smiled at me and said, “It’s the only thing that keeps him quiet.”
“Quiet and dangerous, just like a psychotic mime,” I said under my breath as that kid hurled the ball straight at some poor man’s head. I’m sure it won’t be a problem for them to add in a quick cat scan along with whatever else he was here to get x-rayed in the first place.
I finally finished all the paperwork despite the gravitationally pull on that daisy pen and I walked back to the receptionist’s desk. She looked really busy so I just stood and waited.
“Can I help you?” she said, never once looking up at me.
“I’m all done filling out the medical forms,” I said as I handed her the clipboard.
“Okay, I just have to look over everything and make sure it’s filled out correctly,” she said and leafed through my paperwork.
I gave the area a quick visual sweep to make sure that kid armed with a baseball wasn’t sneaking up behind me. I came here for a boob scan, not a head x-ray.
The receptionist suddenly stopped flipping through the pages of my paperwork and said, “You don’t have anything listed under Employer.”
“I’m a stay-at-home mom,” I said with all the strength I could muster given the sting I still feel from no longer earning a paycheck.
“Are you self-employed?” she asked.
“Well, um, no, kind of, no,” I stammered, my head spinning.
“So, you’re unemployed,” she said and wrote the degrading word on my paperwork.
Unemployed. How can I be unemployed? I haven’t had a day off in seven years. I work twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I have been peed on, pooped on, and puked on—in the same day. I shop for groceries, turn those groceries into meals, clean up the meals, then do it all over again. I dust, mop, vacuum, and make the beds, then I go back and dust again. I feed the dog, I feed the fish, and I replace the fish when it goes belly up so my daughter is spared the heartache. I volunteer at school and church and dance class even when I don’t have the time. I pay bills and make doctor’s appointments for everyone in my house. I do laundry every day of my life. I find missing keys and missing shoes and missing homework and missing teddy bears. I pull weeds and sew rogue buttons back onto shirts. I may not get a paycheck but I am not unemployed.
I stared at the receptionist. She was probably in her early twenties, with manicured fingernails, wearing an expensive jacket with a matching pencil skirt. I couldn’t see her shoes, but I imagined they were just as extravagant. I was just about to unleash seven years of pent up mommy wrath when I realized something: I was this woman once, many years ago. Little life experience, working my first “real” job, spending my entire paycheck on clothes.
I didn’t have to justify my life to her. She wouldn’t understand right now anyway. But one day when she’s standing on the opposite of this desk, she’ll understand. But not today.
I looked at her and smiled, “Yes, I’m unemployed and it’s the best damn job I’ve ever had.”
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