(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

Do you suppose the bean counters at the Census Bureau will be scratching their heads over how it is a woman with a master’s degree counts her only paid income from doing snow removal? It had to be this year they asked me to fill out the form . . .

But there was no “let me explain” section to that long form, the one that made me glad my kids were away at college, if only because we didn’t have to fill out any “Person 3” and “Person 4” sections.

Instead the form shows me as a middle-aged woman of high education and reasonable health (at least I did not admit to any infirmities on the survey) who has no children in the home, yet has worked only removing snow in the past year.

Such is life in the sandwich.

It doesn’t add much to my lifelong social security contributions. And somehow I doubt there’s a grant available in gratitude for doing what I can to keep my mother off the Medicaid rolls or for trying to coordinate the billing and payments between our former insurance company and the provider so that we don’t get dinged for expenses that aren’t ours on what was already a very painful and costly experience helping our daughter back to health.

These activities are real examples of how many of us employed, underemployed, and unemployed spend our time in the middle years of our lives. Taking care of our loved ones and what we do have is how we help society stay strong.

But as a certain president says while discussing this country’s own difficult challenges, “let me perfectly clear” that there are productivity losses, both individual and nationwide, in the realm of paid employment because many of us cannot always direct our attention to holding full-time jobs without neglecting the personal needs of our family members or our jobs. So far I haven’t figured out a way to balance both concerns and do justice to each.

It is my sincere hope that, with my children away at college, I can work back into more suitable (to my skills!) paid productivity, either through writing projects and/or working for an outside company. However, weeks like the last one remind me that my need for flexibility makes me seem like a less than a reliable worker, at least to those who don’t already have a working relationship with me.

When the ambulance took my mother to the hospital, I had to go meet her there, even if I didn’t stay there round-the-clock. Even with my frequent presence, in my absences my mom still ran higher risks of falls, infections, and skin wounds, problems that would only increase her discomfort and lead her closer to needing that government assistance that the taxes on my little snow removal jobs don’t come close to providing.

I take care of my own because it’s the right thing to do—and that’s what so many others are also doing right now. People like me who have chosen to work reduced hours have to remind ourselves of that when faced with surveys or forms that seem to indicate that what we do isn’t part of the economic formula for our nation.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

We are a demographic, too. Know that without our unpaid labor, so much of what needs to get done in our society would either be done less well, need to be paid for by some other funding source, or just wouldn’t get done at all.

I’ll continue to do that unpaid labor because it needs to be done, but know that if the only paid work I do is removing snow, I will work hard to make sure that snow is removed well and in a timely manner so other people can get to their own paying jobs. Whatever I do, I do with the best of my abilities. It’s helped me graduate at the top of my classes, it’s helped me fight for what my loved ones need, and, by gum, it’s helped me get through snow that’s too deep for my equipment because that snow needed to be removed.

I do what needs to be done . . . including filling out *&^%# census forms that appear to diminish what I do.