As the daughter of a father who is a cancer researcher, and a mother who is a psychiatrist, I always assumed that I too would find an inspiring, full-time profession.

Several years back, though, I realized that I am not like my parents the doctors, or my brother the lawyer, or my sister the scientist, or my husband the teacher.

I was reminded of this fact last night at a wedding, when a fellow guest innocently asked me, "So, what do you do?" As always, when asked this question, I forcibly had to restrain myself from grimacing.

What we say we do is far less impressive than what we really do

On my Top Ten List of Irritating Comments, "So what do you do?" ranks smack in the middle between the one from the woman who cooed at my newborn baby girl (my fourth) and said, "Better luck next time," and the one from a fashion-model thin acquaintance who once every few months looks me up and down and appraises, "You've lost a lot of weight since the last time I saw you. You were getting so heavy I didn't even recognize you!"

My sense is that the young mothers who like the question "So, what do you do," are a rare breed. This is because most of us recognize that what we say we do is far less impressive than what we really do.

All of us receptionists, and English teachers, and editors, and yes, even surgeons and stockbrokers, know that you just can't do justice to everything a mother does in just one word.

Today, if I must write down my profession on a questionnaire at a doctor's office, I usually write "housewife," although this is really an inside joke between me and myself that never fails to make me chuckle.

It is true that I spend the vast majority of my life in my house and I am a devoted wife. With that said, I am still very far from being the domestic goddess the term "housewife" evokes, who spends her days ironing and mulling over the pros and cons of competing brands of floor soap.

When I meet new people, like the guest at the wedding last night, and they ask me what I do, I tell them that I am a stay-home mother. While this answer isn't ridiculous enough to make me giggle as soon as the other person's back is turned, and I do spend much of my life caring for the physical and emotional needs of my children, this is still not a full representation of the way I spend my days.

If I had to explain most accurately what I do, it would be that I am a mother who freelances. The difference between me and other freelancers you know is that usually the word freelance is followed by a noun: freelance artists, freelance journalists, freelance photographers. I am just a mother who freelances, period. The noun that follows freelance depends on the day.

To clarify, my central role in life is being a mother. Holding my baby on my lap as I type these words, listening intently as my older daughters share the latest schoolbus scandals, stuffing children's laundry in drawers, kissing little scraped elbows and healing them with bandaids, and wiping away my children's tears and giving them hope when they have absolutely none left.

But as a mother who freelances, I don't stop there. When a single friend wants to get my feedback about someone she is dating seriously, I am a freelance dating mentor. When my husband asks me to read over a letter he has written, I am a freelance proofreader. When a poor mother desperately in need of thousands of dollars of dental treatments comes to me in tears, I am a freelance medical researcher and fundraiser. When I think of an idea that I want to share with the world, I am a freelance writer.

I am a mother who freelances

The important contribution of the mother who freelances reminds me of a concept in Jewish mysticism relating to the Torah scroll. When most of us think of a page of Torah, we envision the words written in black ink. But Jewish mysticism teaches us that the parchment that the words are written on, or white fire, is just as important as the words themselves, or black fire.

In fact, the white fire between the words is considered a higher form of Torah, which transcends the concrete, limited, contracted black fire.

This is how I see, as well, the role of the freelancing Jewish mother. While society needs doctors to heal the sick, lawyers to settle legal disagreements, and architects to design houses, the vast majority of life takes place beyond these concrete, limited, contracted professions.

Just as the space taken up by the parchment is twice as large as the space taken up by the words in a Torah scroll, the vast majority of existence is spent maneuvering the white fire of life that exists between the professions of those who glide with ease through wedding banter.

It is in the white fire that we hug our children, and Email our sisters-in-law, and braid Challah for our Shabbat guests, and call our husbands in the middle of the day just to say hello.

The white fire is the domain of the day-to-day, behind-the-scenes work of Jewish mothers, as we sustain our families and communities and our ancient people. This is the power of the mother who freelances (and isn't every Jewish mother, in fact, a mother who freelances?)

As former first lady Barbara Bush once told an audience of young women: "As important as your obligations as a doctor, lawyer, or business leader will be, you are a human being first, and those human connections- with spouses, with children, with friends- are the most important investments you will ever make... Our success as a society depends not on what happens in the White House but on what happens inside your house."

Recently, my husband was telling me about a rabbi he met who spends eighteen hours a day studying Torah, teaching, and helping people in need. Impressed, I said, "It's people like this rabbi who carry the Jewish people on their shoulders."

And my husband said quietly, as if to himself, "You're right. Although, the funny thing is that I've always thought that it is the mothers who carry the Jewish people on their shoulders."

Now that's a mouthful for a business card.