Our painter, a fifty-something fellow, has done many jobs for us over the years. He works hard, grunting and thumping and wheeling the roller around whatever room he's working on. I commented once on the superb quality of his work. He responded kindly, "I'm sure there's something you're good at, too."
Months later, touching up our living room, he caught sight of my medical degree tucked in a corner of a bookcase. "You're a doctor!" he said accusingly when I saw him next. He felt deceived because I hadn't volunteered that information.
This has happened to me on many occasions, where someone who has known me only as a mother discovers that I am a physician. A neighbour is seated in the clinic waiting room and is shocked to see me with a stethoscope around my neck. A mother at the playground asks why I'm carrying a pager, and is taken aback when I explain that I'm on call for the clinic. The response is usually dismay, and I know it's because they are madly working to mentally recategorize me. They're disconcerted because they realize they've been using the wrong set of assumptions.
The response to both occupations bothers me. I resent being patronized as a mother, and I feel embarrassed when I'm congratulated for being a physician.
While doling out hot dogs and orange drink to my kids at the school barbeque recently, I remarked that the energy and enthusiasm of students made teaching look attractive. A teacher grasped my arm and replied earnestly, "And I'm sure you could do it, one day!"
What was I supposed to say? I just nodded and thanked her.
Cross-posted at www.freshmd.com.