So, What Do You Do?

**This is one of those posts that got put on the back burner, so if it seems a little dated, it is (by a few months). But, it goes hand-in-hand with tomorrow’s post, so I need to share it.**

Before we moved to Italy I had an easy answer when someone asked me, “So what do you do?” I freelanced with a magazine back in New Mexico and I also freelanced for a few sites here and there online. Basically, I was a stay-at-home wife, working from home, and I loved it. But then I moved to Italy, where spouses weren’t allowed to work, and everything changed. That sounds a little dramatic, so let me explain:

The SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) that America has with Italy essentially states that spouses can’t make money unless they work for the government. That means no freelancing, no 31 or Pampered Chef parties, no work from home businesses (babysitting, house cleaning, etc.), no, no, no. The kicker is that the majority of the jobs on base went to local nationals first, so Italians had the priority at filling the jobs that were available. The other caveat was that there wasn’t a position available where I could continue writing (and get paid for it). If you get caught (or turned in) for having a business and making money, the result could mean you wouldn’t be command sponsored anymore. (Command sponsored means the military recognizes that you’re there with your spouse and the commander “sponsors” you to actually be there. To not be command sponsored would be a very sad and expensive ordeal {you’d have to apply for a new visa and basically apply to have an Italian business, and that, quite frankly, is a silly idea to even think about}.)

When we first arrived, I was gung-ho and ready to write about all the wonderful places we’d visit; my plan was to get them published in national travel magazines. Talk about living the dream, right? Then my dreams were crushed. I was told over and over that I could still write, but just not get paid for it; I could “Build my resume,” as they told me over and over again. I was faced with a dilemma: do I try reaching out to the magazines I want to and tell them I’d write for free*, or take a back seat and enjoy my time out there. Since, at the time, I didn’t want to literally sell myself short, there was only one other option available for me: The Compass, a publication all about travel around the area, that was produced on base. The problem was that I wasn’t too amused with their content (the writing and business side of things felt very amateur and you could tell those airmen working there didn’t have a passion for the field), but I figured it could be a stepping point to get in with the bigger magazines, plus I was eager to write and get published, so I submitted something about Aquilea, Italy, and it was published in the next issue. All was good and I was working on my next piece, but then the magazine went under and it turned into a weekly email version with no new content.

I could have gone “underground” and attempted to find work, but I didn’t want to face the repercussion from breaking the SOFA agreement (I’m a good girl), so I blogged (for free) instead. I continued writing on here, but never really thought about work again…

Long story not short, in Italy when I met someone new, the phrase, “So what do you do,” never really came up. If they worked, you knew it; if they didn’t, no big deal. Being a stay-at-home wife/mom was the norm and totally acceptable there. Here? Not so much.

I went to a meet-and-greet outing—a BBQ—with my husband’s squadron when we first got to Alabama, and I experienced something interesting. He was in the “accompanied” flight, which meant he was with 13 other air(wo)men who had families with them (instead of being there solo). Well, wouldn’t you know it that the first thing that came up when I met the other wives was, “So what do you do?” Feeling out of place and out of practice at mingling, I mumbled something about being a writer and then shifted the attention back to their occupation.

I was embarrassed and uncomfortable that I didn’t know exactly what to say. I’m a writer, yes, but I’m not actively working. Technically I’m a stay-at-home mom, which is something I absolutely love, but I’m having a hard time only being a SAHM. I want to do both. I want to write and be at home with my daughter. 

I realize we’re still transitioning, but I desperately want to be settled already. My plan, now that we’re back in Georgia, is to be a stay-at-home mom AND a freelance writer and be proud of both of those aspects. I’m anxious and excited to get back into the game. It turns out that I’ve missed working more than I realized; I’ve missed the research, the comfort of having an editorial calendar, the pleasure of sitting down with someone new and interviewing them, the thrill of an approaching deadline, and the excitement of seeing my work somewhere. I miss it all. So, I’m dusting off the ol’ Rolodex (do people still use those?) and looking
into my options.

It’ll take some baby steps to get to where I want to
be, but I’m willing to put in the effort. I recently returned from the Type-A Parent Conference, so I have some fresh motivation to step up the quality on my blog, I have a new design in the works, and I have plans on getting a sitter/nanny to watch Julia a few hours during the week (once my husband’s schedule gets a little more “normal) so I won’t feel bad about working or going to a cafe to write when I should be watching her. I shouldn’t feel guilty about wanting to work or about wanting to be a SAHM, so I’m going to do both.

Now that we’re back and I’m inevitably going to start meeting new people, I hope I’m prepared the next time I’m asked about what I do. I’m a work-from-home mom. I take care, love, laugh, and play with my daughter, and I’m a writer.

So what do you do? 
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  1. See I keep running into people that don't understand how you can make money blogging or writing online. It drives me crazy.

    I did have to give up my Ebay business when we moved to Germany. When we got back to the US I was more focused on blogging and other things so I never got back into it.

  2. Could you offer sponsors on your blog, or would that break SOFA as well? Since you'd be making money and all. I think the SOFA agreement is a bit more relaxed in Korea, seeing as I can work as a doula.

    I understand your need to write, though! It's so hard to find the time with a baby.

  3. Wow! That's a tough SOFA agreement! In Okinawa, I think like 2/3 of the jobs went to locals, but plenty of spouses still got jobs on base (not me though!) There are rare occasions when spouses would get jobs off base too. We were allowed to sell Scentsy, Thirty-One, whatever. They just didn't allow the stuff to be shipped through the military mail, but everyone got around that. I volunteered while we were there because I didn't want the huge gap in my resume. It actually worked out better than I expected. But you are back now, you'll get it all figured out again, just in time for the next move!

  4. I know I'm late to the game since this was posted a few days ago, but I'm so glad you posted this one! It was really encouraging. I like your plan to write from home and employ a babysitter to help you get the time to write (it's so hard to find time when you have a little one!!). Hope that it works out well for you. 🙂

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