When I was born, my parents were two college students who had just been dating. The night they brought me home, they put me down to sleep in the bottom drawer of a dresser and invited the prostitutes from across the street over to celebrate.
Both dropped out of college. Dad got a job at a convenience store and mom, who was unknowingly suffering from postpartum depression, began drinking entirely too much. We lived in a neighborhood where there was so much crime we had iron bars on our windows. One time thieves broke in and cracked my mom’s head with a pistol before stealing my piggy bank.
Flash forward. Seventeen years later. I now have a brother, two sisters and a stepmom. We live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood in a very nice town. My college-dropout father starts a new company from the table in our dining room. It eventually becomes a multi-million dollar enterprise.
As a young adult, I lived in one room of the condo of a stranger. She wouldn’t let me use the rest of the place, except for the bathroom and the kitchen, as long as she didn’t need them. I worked two jobs, starting my day as a publicist and ending it selling sweaters and slacks at Talbot’s. I’d leave the house at 8am and return after 11pm. When I went to the grocery store, I had to bring a calculator, because I couldn’t afford to spend more than the 20 or 30 bucks I had for food for the week.
Flash forward a decade later and I’m working as a marketing director at a massive corporation, with my own office and an assistant. I get to fly business class. I live in a nice big house. I can afford whatever I want.
When my son was young, I worked full-time at that job and put him in childcare. Late afternoons were the worst. I’d be invited to a last-minute meeting with the chief marketing officer or the CEO — the kind you jump at the chance to be part of — and I’d agree to stay, only to drive the hour commute home speeding down the highway at 90 miles an hour and sobbing because I knew my son would probably be the last one there.
Flash forward, my children are six and ten and I’m now a stay-at-home mom who works out of a home office and finds herself continually pulled between household responsibilities, child raising and writing up stories. I turn down opportunities because I don’t want to be away from my kids, but I grieve for those missed experiences and the related income they’d bring. Still, I’m grateful for the work I have, because there also was a time in my life that I was on the unemployment line, and it wasn’t much fun.
I’m grateful to have spent most of my life healthy. Except for that six months where I suffered nerve damage from a botched spinal surgery, lost the use of my left leg, spent 24 hours a day in excruciating pain living on Oxycontin, had to have a nurse take care of me, and ended up in the psych ward because it hurt so bad I wanted to kill myself. (Trust me, you would have, too.)
Poor. Rich. Employed. Unemployed. Working mom. Stay-at-home mom. Healthy. Unhealthy. Every day we make assumptions about people based on what we think we know about them. This week those assumptions cropped up again when Democratic analyst Hilary Rosen said stay-at-home mom Ann Romney, wife of GOP candidate Mit Romney, had never worked a day in her life. The claws came out immediately on all sides. Some defending Rosen, others attacking her.
I was supposed to write about that incident today. Instead I want to write about assumptions.
A kid who wears a hoodie and has been suspended from school is up to no good.
A child with special needs is living a life that’s a tragic shame.
A wealthy stay-at-home mom has never worked a day in her life.
A pretty girl is either stupid or slept her way to the top.
A mom who works out of the house is choosing money over her children.
I call bullsh-t. It’s all wrong. Those assumptions and so many more. You don’t know me, and I don’t know you. You have no idea what my life’s worth of experiences has been. You might look at me now, in this small moment, and think you know but you don’t. You have no idea how much my opinions about healthcare or childcare or motherhood or economics are or are not worthy. And vice versa.
I share a few stories from my life here as a tiny representation of the lives of all of us. We are complicated creatures, composed of hundreds if not thousands of puzzle pieces. Many of us have swung from one extreme to another, lived in many places, done many different things, had heartache and joy. We aren’t one thing or the other.
My dad taught me once that when you assume you make an “ass” of “u” and “me”. I do it. You do it. We all do it. Still, he was right.