Wednesday, August 8, 2012

An Amateur Woman

 A few months ago I was a guest of my friend Elizabeth at a literary society luncheon. The luncheons, held on weekdays in a beautiful place with beautiful food are primarily attended by women. Elizabeth had prepared me for a roomful of middle-aged, well-coiffed "ladies who lunch." 

So it surprised me when, halfway through our Cobb salad, the stranger to my left turned and asked me, "So, are you a professional woman, too?"

I paused with my fork half way to my mouth. I looked at Elizabeth. I looked back at the stranger (it turned out she was a librarian for a prestigious private college). I stammered out a rather inarticulate answer...used to be a magazine editor/writer...actually wrote about this society when it started...still do a little freelance with two small children.

But I had a perverse desire to say, "No, actually, I'm an amateur woman. I do this whole woman thing for free." 

I know what the librarian was asking. I think I may have looked particularly employed that day, as I was wearing only remaining dry-clean-only clothes. So she was simply wondering, what is my profession? I rarely feel insecure when I tell people that I quit my full time job six years ago to raise my small daughters. So I wasn't threatened by the question.

It was the wording that gave me pause. And the phrase "Amateur Woman" struck my fancy. I immediately envisioned it written in capital letters. Moreover, between that day to this, I've studied the three main definitions of amateur and found that of all the labels I could be given -- stay at home mom, homemaker, volunteer, blogger, quilter, friend, wife, Christian -- Amateur Woman is one of my favorites.

One definition of amateur is the opposite of professional; someone who engages in study, sport or activity for pleasure rather than financial benefit. Ama comes from the Latin root for love. So, basically, an amateur is in it for love.

I am finding the act of being a woman to be a pleasure, which is good, because I doubt going pro and getting paid is possible. Daily, I am attempting to have a life that I can do for love.

I decided to quit my job when I heard God speak to me, just as I was passing a farm stand on my way to work. A thought rang in my head: "You don't have to be stressed out to be valuable." It was completely non sequitor to my present stream of thoughts, and I knew it came from somewhere outside my self. Moreover, it penetrated to the very marrow of my life's present crises, as God's voice always does. I had lots of rational reasons to be working (financial needs, future career advancement), but at that particular time in my life, what was actually keeping me from  giving notice was not rationality, but fear. The fear that I would be worthless if I stopped pushing myself so hard. 

I gave notice to my editor a week later. It turns out, I do feel valuable despite my lack of paycheck. I won't go so far as to say that I no longer have stress; I am raising children on one income, after all. But it's distinct from and less acute than the working-mother treadmill of stress I ran on for the first two years of my daughter's life, knowing that at any moment a case of the flu, a cancelled baby sitter or a missed nap could derail the whole week, make me miss a deadline or send me into a shame spiral when I had to choose between my daughter's needs and my job.

After the initial identity crisis that is inevitable in our culture when you stop earning a wage, the amateur era of my life has opened up a much larger world to me. I know there are very real challenges for women in our culture, but I have tasted the extreme freedom of being a female with children; it is socially acceptable, by and large, for me not to work in order to raise kids. And while raising kids, I am doing lots of other things as well. While I don't have the freedom to go to the bathroom without a child with me most days, I do have the freedom to pursue passions, from homemaking arts like quilting and cooking, to church leadership, to the very intellectual discipline of being a self-aware, psychologically astute parent. 

Which brings me to part two of the definition to which I relate: Amateur also applies to an athlete who doesn't compete for payment or a monetary prize. 

Until 1971, Olympic athletes had to be amateurs. One could be stripped of their Olympic medals if it was discovered that they had ever been paid for playing their sport, rather than being supported by a parent or other wealthy family member. The Dream Team was big news in 1992, because for the first time professional NBA players were allowed to represent the U.S. in the Olympics. 

Currently, I am being supported by a family member, namely, my husband, and his support allows me to train, like the Olympians, incredibly hard at being an Amateur Woman. Amateur doesn't mean slacker. Amateur Olympians were hitting the pool, the track, the bike incredibly hard. Likewise, though there is no official compensation involved in being an Amateur Woman, my goal here is excellence. Not perfection, but excellence. My own personal best. 

My training regimen is multifaceted.

I strive for energy-sustaining, free-radical fighting nutrition. I prepare unprocessed foods daily and buy mostly organic foods. 

I refine my mind with good literature, parenting books (psychologist Bruno Bettleheim's Good-Enough Parent has been very influential, and I believe will truly propel me to excellence when I get past the introduction), and New Yorker cartoons (some of the most piercing observations on modern child rearing). 

I spent a lot of money the year I turned 30 on therapy.

 I strengthen my soul with Bible study, both group and individual, plus worship every Sunday. 

I surround myself with spectacular coaches, ranging from my husband to a cloud of great witnesses: my friends and fellow Amateur Women of various ages who cheer me on and offer valuable correction. 

I nurture my creative side with sewing projects (quilting, embroidery, purses, baby blankets) and ambitious birthday cakes. 

I cultivate humility by biting off bigger leadership projects than I can chew, so that God has to step in and remind me that he's the boss. Not me.

I'm seeing results. If NBC were to do an inspirational back story on me, I think the character development over the last 10 years would be measurable, enough to possibly bring a tear to the eye of other women who are doing their darndest every day.

And finally, the third definition of amateur that I find so compelling: a person inexperienced or unskilled in a particular activity. Example: Hunting lions is not for amateurs.

With all my growth and striving, there are always elements of womanhood at which I find myself unskilled. And as soon as I master one stage (woman with infant, for example), its over and I'm on to the next. I wake up some mornings with an overwhelming sense of my amateur status.

The women in my life I most admire are 20 to 30 years ahead of me, and though their bodies are older, their souls seem to be acquiring the most coveted qualities of youth: faith, freedom, self-confidence, curiosity. They are dreaming bigger, worshiping with more joy and abandon, praying bolder prayers, learning new technology, seeking peace in their relationships, finding greater value in the simple pleasures of life. They refuse to accept "unskilled" as their status, knowing that the lions of despair, broken relationships, ignorance, fear, doubt, boredom, and complacency must be fought. So they fight. They inspire me, and to them I bestow the honor title, Amateur Women. Women who are doing life for love.


1 comment:

  1. I love this! I also have been an "amateur woman" for the last 17 years and your words not only were highly relatable, they gave some great wisdom to ponder! Than you!