On a June return flight from California, I sat next to a woman on the connection from Chicago to Albany. Without sharing our names, we began chatting about the usual flight topics like how cold it was on the plane, racing to catch the flight after delays, and the dreaded drive home from Albany at 11 at night. After telling her my drive was an hour and 15 minutes from Albany, she asked exactly where I called home. When I told her Cooperstown, I should have known what she might ask.
"Oh! Cooperstown! Do you know Andrew Marietta?"
I couldn't help but roll my eyes when replying, "Yes! Yes, I know him!"
She smiled, cautiously, and I continued, "He's my husband."
I went on to tell her I can't help but react in this way because it happens so often. She continued to share with me, as most people do, that she's from our area, and has worked with Andy before. She told me how helpful Andy is and how friendly and informative she finds him. These are all words echoed by many community members, however, one thing she didn't say, that many others do, is how thankful she is to me for, "letting him do what he does."
I made a new friend that night and had a laugh at how small the world can be and how big of a fish Andy is in our small pond. For the most part, I'm content to know that the person I chose to spend the rest of my life with has chosen to spend his life helping others. It is truly his calling. As a career advisor, I know that Andy is in the right place for him- the ultimate professional goal. Yet, I have shared before tales of my marital competitive side and my struggles and wishes for the same level of local notoriety that is bestowed upon my partner.
I find that, some days, I just don't want to be "Mrs. Cooperstown" and, as I stand at his side, at various community functions, nodding and smiling, I have to bite my tongue when someone thanks me for, "allowing him to do all the good work he does." I want to say, "First of all, I don't allow him to do it! I've been trying, with every ounce of my being, to stop him from being so damn helpful. It's called free will, people! Don't thank me. Thank him. Get me a drink."
I'm a bad wife, I know. I'm a bad wife because I don't want to be the great woman behind the great man. I want to be the great woman next to the great man. I want a leg in the potato sack race and I want to be on the winning team. A long time ago, in college, I was pretty sure I was going to be that woman who changed the world. When we are at these various functions, and as I stand, mostly, behind him, I wonder, what happened?
At a recent Andy-obligatory community function (yes, I wanted to watch Downton Abbey in my pj's instead) I was prepared for the usual activities of an event of this nature. I would wear something nice, enjoy a drink, shake hands and smile, and try to amuse myself by looking at my surroundings and monologuing in my head. This particular night, it was hotter than Hades, I was sober-preparing for a race the next day- my dress was too tight and I couldn't breathe well. Right from the start, I knew this event was going downhill fast.
That is until one of the guests approached me for conversation. I was at my usual post, hovering next-to-but mostly-behind Andy, juggling water and apps. Andy initiated the conversation, introducing himself, wrapping one arm around his waist, and the other pensively stroking his chin, while he prepared his pitch. This guest, however, didn't even give him the chance to start pitching. She turned to me, her body facing me directly, her eyes wide, and said, "You must be his wife."
I was caught completely off guard. I tried to quickly inhale the cracker and salmon before I mumbled, "Uh, yes. Yes, I am." I thought that'd be the end of my part in the conversation until she asked me more questions, like "What do you do?" When I shared that I am a director of a career office at a college she said, "Oh, I must talk to you! You have all the secrets." I did a slight look over my shoulder as I was pretty sure she was talking to someone who just walked in, obviously having lost interest in me. But, no, she continued to ask me questions about industry trends, student career interests, and I gave my own pitch about my passions: the value of a liberal arts education and the need for parents to have better resources to juggle child rearing and work. I did try, a few times, to weave Andy back in to the conversation, but this guest was committed to hearing my opinion and for once, he stood quietly by my side..
Now, I'm no fool. Unwavering attention and keen listening skills are required in this guest's line of work. You see, she is a politician who is up for election. It is her job to listen to her constituents and demonstrate her sincere interest and enthusiasm, which she did very well and in turn, I'll vote for her. I also wondered if, since I was one of the only "young" mothers in the room, and she is also a woman, she knew that I'd appreciate some face time.
Regardless of her intentions, I rode that wave, and despite the fact that I felt like a stuffed, melting sausage, I held my head high that night, thankful for some attention and for the chance to speak with someone about my opinion.
Speaking of my opinion, as I mentioned, one of my talking points was "brain drain" and the ever-present upstate challenge of retaining talent in the area. We all know that families, lots of them, and with good jobs, help stimulate the local economy. Politicians and economic developers are always talking about how to retain good talent and think teams gather to strategize tactics. Well, I'll tell you and I told her: People! It takes a g-damn village to raise a child! A village does not two people make. Working families need a network of resources like excellent health care providers, top-notch educators, supportive after school programs, stimulating and engaging enrichment co-curricular activities, and safe public transportation. Working parents need reasonable salaries to pay for all of this and flexible employers who understand the value of raising children(or helping elderly parents). Working families need communities that give resources to people and places that support working families like schools, hospitals, public health entities, community gardens and after school programs, to name a few.
Yes, brain drain experts, I want cute and hipster places to buy purses and coffee. Yes, I want to listen to live music within a 30 minute radius of my home. Yes, I want a salary that matches my abilities and experience but most of all, I want to know that my girls are safe and sound, healthy, happy and learning all day, every day, especially when I am not with them. I spend a lot of time building our family's village and I hope one day, to give back to that village, to support all of the resources our working family needs to thrive. But, for now, I focus on what I can do- through my work and with my children, and I leave it to Andy to focus on strengthening and supporting our community resources.
I'm glad Andy dragged me to that event (because I still got to watch Downton when we got home) which allowed me to realize I don't have to stand behind him. I can stand right next to him. There's nowhere else I belong and I should stop telling myself anything different. Andy and I are in that potato sack together, racing toward the same finish line and when people thank me for allowing him to do his good work, I'll silently thank myself for doing my own good work, even if it's not as publicly regarded. It's true, I struggle sometimes being "Mrs. Cooperstown" because I did not choose to be a public figure or a big fish in a small town. I'm still just a small fish, doing small fish things that are vital to the ecosystem of our pond. I do it all. I do good. I work. I raise kids and I still have time for Downton Abbey. And if you want to call me something, you can call me Your Ladyship.