Before Zoe came along, I worked in the wards here on the Africa Mercy. First as a staff nurse, then as a charge nurse and Assistant Ward Supervisor and later as the Team Leader for maxillofacial surgery. The vast majority of my time was spent in blue scrubs, but every once in a while, the occasion called for a uniform.
On board a ship, you can tell someone's rank by looking at their shoulders. As an Assistant Ward Supervisor and Team Leader, I wore epaulettes with one stripe. The HoJ has three in that photo because, at the time, he was serving as the Chief Electrician. The Captain gets four stripes, the Second Officer gets two, and on and on it goes.
I have to admit that I felt pretty good every time I had to don my black and whites. Whether it was a reception for the different organizations we partner with in-country or a tour for the President, shedding the day-to-day blue in favour of more formal wear always felt special. When I left the ship to go on maternity leave last year, I had a real moment of sadness when I went to the office to turn in my epaulettes.
Today, I was hanging out in the café with Zoe and the other mamas. (We get together every Tuesday for coffee and a chat. It happens right after Creative Movement, so the bigger girls are still in their tutus, which is one of the cuter things I've ever seen and makes me so excited for Zoe to grow up.) I lingered for a little while after everyone had left, letting Zoe get her fill of the colours and lights.
I had just gotten up to leave when an acquaintance, visiting from the IOC in Texas, came up to say hello. He has kids of his own, but it was the first time he'd seen Zoe, so I proudly showed her off and we exchanged the usual pleasantries. As I turned to go, he smiled knowingly.
Got your new epaulettes, I see.
Standing there in my jeans and a ratty grey t-shirt, holding my baby and not doing anything remotely close to what I've always considered 'real' work, I was utterly confused for a moment. Until Zoe buried her head in my shoulder again and then looked up at me, grinning her gummy little grin, leaving behind the ubiquitous trail of drool.
Mama. This is my new rank, and my shoulders carry so much more now than just a piece of cloth with a stripe or two.
It doesn't come with a special uniform (unless you count nice sweatpants as dressing up, which I am very inclined to do) and the epaulettes are more often than not made up of baby barf. It's not exactly fancy, but I'm coming to realize that this is the very 'realest' of work.
The patients are out on Deck Seven right now. It's directly above our cabin, so I can hear the rumble of kids being pulled back and forth in wagons and the beat of the drums as they sing. Zoe is sleeping through the commotion, and the damp spot on my shoulder is slowly drying.
I liked my old epaulettes and everything they stood for, but I think I like these ones even better.