Someone has to get married or die for me to make money, and it is not working out. I have spent the last fifteen years singing at weddings and funerals and church services, but it is time for me to get an actual job, and it turns out, no one wants to hire me. I am trying not to take it personally.
When I was in high school, my only sibling already away at college, my stay-at-home mother took a job as a secretary at a law firm. This was back in the ’80s, when law firms actually had secretaries, women whose duties were typing, filing (papers, in actual cabinets), taking messages and getting coffee. Most of the time, and despite how it looks on Mad Men, no one found this degrading, there was dignity in it. My mom, presumably, did these things and they loved her, because she was one of those classy, funny women who put others at ease. She was Mary Tyler Moore and Grace Kelly and Lucille Ball all in one. She hadn’t worked in twenty years, so this first sojourn into the working world was exciting and humbling — slightly humiliating, even — and scary. I am guessing: I didn’t know that then, because I was busy wondering if Johnny Perkins liked me and if there would be a test on “Julius Caesar” and if the coach would make me swim the 500 at the meet, but mainly if Johnny Perkins liked me. Or Todd Adams, he was cute, he’d be okay. Sixteen is a self-absorbed age.
Now I am forty-two, just a little younger than my mom was when she went back to work, and I am looking. Not very aggressively, but looking. I stayed home to raise my kids and I have no regrets that I did; if I have to take a job as a waitress because I have been out of the workforce so long, I will still have no regrets that I stayed home. None. The thing is, my feet would hurt so, so much.
Plus, I have a master’s degree, I can write well, and I can sing circles around most people I know, but none of these things have resulted in a job. Not one. Also, I have years of experience in communications and psychology, motivational speaking and project management. I can nurture and coax and heal, I can and keep track of multiple schedules, appointments, budgets and needs, and I can navigate educations systems and healthcare systems or any systems, and advocate for multiple people. I know when to be a sounding board and just listen, when to offer a gentle opinion, and when to insist. I know when to use some tough love and when to be a softy, and I can cook for two or for twenty. All this because, of course, I have been a mom.
Still, nobody wants to hire me.
True, I am looking for a job only three or four days a week (four children still live at home!) True I am looking for a job that is less than 25 minutes away (the minivan is really old!), and only from 9 until 2 (I have a life!). True, I am looking for a job in a pleasant, quiet place that smells good and has classical music playing in the background. Preferably Chopin or Paganini, with Vivaldi on Fridays. True, I am hoping to really like my boss and colleagues, and that we will discuss great books and philosophy, current events and recipes, parenting and politics (and they will all agree with me), theology and travel and funny movies. Or maybe I could be the boss. I’d make an awesome boss. I would bring homemade muffins.
Basically, I’m hoping to make money being engaged and happy. And wearing some really cute work clothes. Oh, and I would do some work, too. I know when to eat muffins and when to buckle down and get the work done.
Still, no one is beating down my door. The brides only want a singer on Saturdays, the deceased only want a singer when they are dead, and neither group is helping us save much. The years of teaching experience and the master’s and all those areas of expertise from fifteen years of parenting are not, so far, landing me a nine-to-two in a place of great thought that smells like snickerdoodles. (The trick is one egg, Tahitian vanilla, and Vietnamese cinnamon.)
I have perused the want ads and applied to smattering of them, only to be rejected, which fills me with both indignation and relief. One school, in need of a part-time literature teacher, told me they were looking for someone who was “more of a forward thinker.” I am not sure what they saw on my resume or read in my cover letter that led them to believe I am a backward thinker, and I’m not sure why a forward-thinking person is of utmost importance in a teacher of literature, since most great writers are dead, and many great books are old. But whatever.
Another place of employment told me my resume was wonderful but I am over-qualified for the job, which I think is maybe the equivalent of “it’s not you, it’s me.” And another institution, advertising an opening for a writer, was only interested in my expertise at social networking; they were concerned with my lack of a Twitter account. I started laughing, which probably didn’t help.
And then there was the music conservatory that advertised for a voice teacher, something I did years ago when I had an accompanist, something I was good at and could be again. In this particular case, though, the music conservatory, a stout brick building in Falls Church, turned out to also be a dental laboratory and a dog kennel, where the tenor who taught voice and violin also manufactured crowns for a local dentist, and took care of the canine pets of his friends’ friends. I would get used to the drilling sound downstairs, he said, pausing as we walked by a wall on which hung a picture of him and Placido Domingo, turning ever-so-slightly to make sure I’d noticed. And I would be perfect for the job, especially if I didn’t mind occasionally cleaning up after the dogs, you know, in-between my lessons. To make the offer even more appealing, he would let me keep fifty percent of my earnings (a raised eyebrow here, to emphasize the generosity of this offer), when the other instructors usually only got to keep forty. So in this case, I was actually offered a job. I said I would have to think about it, and I strung them along for two days before I called and said something else had come up. I used the nebulous line the forward-thinking people had used with me: I had decided, I said, to go in another direction.
So I confess that I am not looking terribly hard for a job now, because you can only handle so much rejection and weirdness at forty-two, and because I afraid my perfect job is not actually out there. No one wants to hire someone who will only come between nine and two; not schools and not music conservatories, unless you will clean up after dogs, and saying “I am a writer” is sort of like saying “I’m in a band…” I can’t force people to get married on weekdays, and I can’t in good conscience hope for more people to die and request me for their funeral. The employers of teachers and writers are not looking for someone for a few hours a day, and the old, traditional ideas about what should be read in the name of education are obsolete.
I could write about the differences between Bach and Handel, I know what makes Hardy more readable than Dickens, which of Shakespeare’s comedies is the funniest, and why Rogers and Hammerstein and Gilbert and Sullivan are in again. I could pontificate about the richness of Roman Catholicism and I could compile a soul-satisfying reading list for a child of five or fifteen. The thing is, no one cares. No one will pay me to teach or write about any of that, because they are reading The Fault In Our Stars and The Hunger Games in high school English classes now (read them both, hated them both), and because I do not have a Twitter account. My areas of expertise are irrelevant or unprofitable or both, and whatever merit they do have is overshadowed by the fifteen year gap on my resume that says M-O-M-M-Y in big, bold letters. Employers see that and they think unemployed. They think babysitter, only more smug.
It’s fine, really, because I look at my friends and neighbors who work and also have spouses who work, and I suspect their children are wearing dirty underwear. I know their houses are clean, because I see the Merry Maids come and go or I hear them say things like, “Rosita is only here on Wednesdays.” But even with help (shockingly, it is still within the bounds of political-correctness to call it help), I know those working moms are exhausted and scrambling. They are not driving a thirteen-year-old minivan with a gash in the door, but their weekends are spent running errands in crowds, they are worn out, and they haven’t made cookies in ages. Certainly not with Tahitian vanilla and Vietnamese cinnamon.
So I’ll just continue my job search, with the luxury of knowing we will eat regardless of its fruitfulness. I am aware of how lucky I am for that. And if, by chance, I can find something perfect, I’ll take it in a heartbeat. (I am considering the Exxon station down the street. They know me by name in there; they play soft country music, the good stuff, from Hank to Dirks, and the coffee is not bad. Sadly, I don’t know a thing about cars.) I am actually a hard worker, and there are braces, a new roof, and four college tuitions to pay for. Until then, I’ll take all this rejection in stride. All those people who didn’t hire me can just stuff it, as my dad says. They don’t even know me. They’ll never know my snickerdoodles are famous and I can still hit a high C. Their loss.