Last week I was working the deli counter at Cheese Importers. Two women came up to order coffee. I recognized one as the mother of my son's teammates. We made some Momtalk as I made their espresso.
"How long have you worked here?" she asked. When I said I'd worked there for a year, she said, "That's good of you."
I smoothed over the strangeness of that comment by keeping the chatter going and the coffee coming. As soon as she left, my co-worker said, "What the hell kind of comment was that?"
I asked him if he thought her remark was condescending. He shrugged. "Who else is going to make her coffee?"
Who else, indeed? Perhaps she might have felt more comfortable if a pimply-faced twenty-something had handed her a coffee, instead of someone who has children the same age.
There are assumptions embedded in her remark, namely that I'm at an age where I should be doing something to improve the world. Something more personally prosperous. Or maybe I just can't cut it in the world of competition and industry.
Her remark prompted a memory of nearly thirty years earlier. My then-boyfriend and I were driving up the coast to San Francisco when I mentioned that one of my sisters was dating a man whose family owned a tire dealership. He snorted and said, "Why would anyone want to own a tire dealership?"
"It just so happens," I replied, "that the car you're driving has tires. I'd say that's filling a need."
I could have told her that ten years of raising my children was industry enough for me, and that Rip Van Winkle-like, the print and publishing industry I had been part of for the previous ten years was unrecognizable to me. I could have told her what better contribution to civilization could I have made than to raise well-adjusted, warm-hearted kids. I could have told her I'm lucky to have a job at all in this economy, much less at one of Longmont's main attractions. I could have told her I'm a yoga teacher. A writing coach who helps people tell their stories in the best way they can, something I never could have done when I worked as an editor. I could have told her people everywhere are making whatever contribution they can, and that she could stand to update her attitudes about what constitutes valuable work.
I think I'll let the words of our country's current poet laureate, Philip Levine, carry the day.