Monday, January 31, 2011

I Never Expected To Be This Broad

I  have a slight acquaintance with a man who is a knot expert, one of the leading thinkers about knots in the entire world. He teaches knot theory in the math department of a top university, and his office is hung with samples of sailor knots, artfully mounted and framed. Once I came across a knot at a flea market, attached to a wooden plaque, intricate and heavy and the size of a loaf of rosemary foccacia. At the last minute I decided not to buy it for him, worried it might seem a bit overfriendly. The next time I ran into him I mentioned having seen such a knot for sale. He sighed and said, "I already have that one."

There was a time that I too seemed slated for specialization. In high school I realized that my affinity for foreign languages, lust for travel, and fear of poverty made me a shoo-in for a career in international business. I earned both an undergraduate and graduate degree in the subject and spent about ten years in what my resume will tell you were "positions of increasing responsibility" in international marketing and product development, getting a more nuanced understanding of the challenges of cross-cultural business success.

Then I had kids. Then I realized that my favorite part of international business had become writing up long reports for my bosses, filled with superfluous anecdotes about the people and cultures I'd visited, and light on terms like EBITDA and IRR. Great if you aspire to be Mark Twain, not so much if you aspire to be George Soros. 

Thus followed a major mid-life career change which has broadened and flattened my skill set like a pancake. Here is a partial list of things at which I've become merely proficient in the past five years:
  1. Technical Support: I am the go-to gal for my own home office tech setup as well as everyone else's iPod, iPad, and laptop. I have a success rate of about 53% at fixing computer glitches. The rest of the time I just say, "Try to reboot it. I'm going to read in bed for awhile."
  2. Hairstyling: Trimming bangs and split ends over the sink is what I'm known for, which is good because it is the only cut I can do. If I had a son, he'd probably have a bowl cut.
  3. Stage Mothering: On Saturday I learned for the first time that ballet dancers on pointe are not standing on the pads of their toes inside those shiny shoes as I had always assumed, but actually on the tips of their toes. After 1.5 years of trying, the ballet teacher last week told my youngest daughter that Mommy almost had the hair bun right. (See No. 2 above.)
  4. Veterinary Services: I can remove ticks with only a little bit of gagging.
  5. Plumbing: I can sometimes get the long hair gunge left by three females in our family off of the bathroom drain, using a white plastic hooky thing my husband bought me. Mostly I just wait for him to get frustrated.
  6. Urban Farming: Every spring I plant the garden with seedlings and high hopes, and reliably harvest a dozen tomatoes and one artichoke. 
  7. Team Cow Penning: With my sister, I can separate three cattle from a herd and get them into a pen at the center of the corral while riding horseback. Cowgirl Camp ruled.
Of the skills above, Team Cow Penning is the only one I'd really care to get better at. But there's a limited market for it.

I supposed it would be nice to be recognized as an expert in something rather than as a Jill of Some Trades. But the benefit of this broad worldview is that by now I've learned that is nothing I can't do, in at least a half-assed fashion.

I may not know knots. But I can bake you a pretzel and tie your shoe, and sometimes that's plenty.


  1. As a lifelong sailor I learned a bit about knots. Like the definitive book is Ashley's Book of Knots. And that every culture, no matter how remote, developed all the same basic knots. Square knot, bowline, and half-hitches will get most things done. Pretzel pies are more difficult. I've only known one other.

  2. I can do a square knot, and I was a master macrame-er back in the 1970s - I could whip you up a hanging plant basket from twine and beads in no time. Alas, I've lost that skill too.

  3. I still insist we could blow wide open if we started the "Drunk How-To" series. You could start with either Cow Penning or Ballet Hair - but probably best to leave out the live animal demonstration. I'll follow up with Caviar Pie Making.

  4. Is broad a noun or an adjective in this context?

  5. Save the hair and sell it for buns!

  6. I became resigned years ago to the fact that I don't excel at anything. But I am pretty good at some stuff. But you wrote it so much better than I could.

  7. Awesomeness.

    I have skills like this, but without the impressive resume from the time before. Oh, I have a resume . . . but it is all filled with education that never quite came to economic fruition. Yay for law school and graduate school and my increased awareness of the fact that I am way better at school than I am at employment!


    But this Mom-thing? I have this thing down. I am good at it. I am also pretty fabulous at the wife thing.

    I am working on the writer-thing.

    We'll see.

    For now? I mostly amuse myself.

    A lovely skill I am deeply pleased to have developed.


  8. Hey ho Nancy - wish I had called my career book for librarians the title of your post.

    I have managed nearly 11 years as a freelancer, doing mainly whatever the hell I like, I am still surprised that I get away with it.

    Did I ever tell you I started as a project manager in the construction industry? Some crazy stories there - perhaps I should write about that too.

    I also nearly moved to Spain about 9 years ago when I was told by clinicians that I couldn't have children. Three years later I had 2 children under the age of two (by the regular method, you know man woman no contraceptive)......still can't quite believe that and neither can the doctors.

    My youngest wee girl (Alice) thinks I am the best at pulling out wobbly teeth and the older (Lara) thinks my greatest skill is in making macaroni cheese for Saturday night TV dinner. I wow them with my skills in shortbread making, sewing on Brownie Scout badges and constructing a Mott and Bailey castle from cardboard boxes.

    My kids ask me what I do - I tell them I only do stuff that makes me happy.

    It is all a bit of a lovely surprise really.

  9. AMEN! There's simply not enough time to become prficient at all that mothering takes. Seriously! ther's a need for a Keepin' it real mom's handbook - and all prospective parents should read ti!!
    Thanks for linking up!


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