My 16-month old knows something is wrong. She’s right, but how can she possibly know that?
12:38 pm – I’m called into a conference room with two of my colleagues, and there’s a box of tissues on the table. My breath catches in my chest as I hear things like “restructuring” and “necessity to reduce staff and costs.” I sit and listen. We all sign the paperwork and leave, having just been laid off.
1:07 pm – I reenter my office, cradling a lump in my throat. Quickly I finish the emails I was writing and shut down my computer. My now-former coworker pokes her head in. Are you ready to go? I grab the box of tissues off my desk and shove it in my work bag, then head out the door, dialing my husband. We walk down the street. On the phone, John is already in cheerleader mode. We arrive at our destination, Sea Salt, order beers, and find a picnic table in the sun, still reeling.
1:25 pm – How do I not have a job anymore? How is this so suddenly not part of my life? I’ve been trying to redefine my identity within motherhood – how to embrace this new role and give everything I have to my family, without losing myself in the chaos. It hasn’t been going well. And now a huge piece of my identity is just gone. I don’t know how to pick up these pieces.
1:40 pm – In less than three hours, I’m supposed to get Lucy from my parents’ house. I don’t know how I’m going to tell my mom. Maybe I won’t. She’ll only panic and internalize and spend the weekend worrying about my family. But I have to tell her, she’s my mom. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.
This morning Lucy won’t stop crying. Maybe she knows I’m not going to work. She wails through a fresh diaper and getting dressed. Maybe she can tell I’m steeling myself for the job search that lies ahead today. She bawls through a variety of story books, even some of her favorites. Maybe she knows more words than I realize, and understands when John and I talk. She sobs through breakfast, and I put my head down on the dining table and cry.
2:05 pm – The texts start rolling in from people I no longer work with. What is going on? There was an announcement at the office. Are you guys still at Sea Salt? One by one, we’re joined by friends from the office. They bring more beer, pass around the box of tissues. They’re reeling, too.
2:55 pm – What’s going to happen to my family? We have a toddler. We have a mortgage. We have a car payment. We have diapers to buy and mouths to feed. I don’t have a job just for fun. My distinguished older gentleman of a husband isn’t independently wealthy. I need a paycheck.
3:40 pm – I ask John to pick up Lucy from my parents’ house. He says yes. I call my mom and tell her everything. She’s sad for me – she can hear the devastation in my voice. But I’m not sure she really even understands the implications of what I’ve told her.
3:47 pm – A new text pops up. Still on for happy hour? Suddenly I remember I have plans tonight. I promised a close mom friend a hot date – her little one has had an extreme case of HFM for over a month now. She desperately needs a break. But how on earth will I keep it together? I should cancel. I can’t cancel. She *needs* this. Maybe I need this too. I tell her I was laid off and I’ll pick her up at 5.
7:25 pm – Lucy is already asleep when I get home, so I sit on the couch with John, sniffling. I’m on my phone trying to log out of the Instagram accounts I manage – used to manage. It won’t work. Every time I open the app, they’re staring me down. John asks, “Do you want some wine?” I don’t. My mouth is dry. Now that I’ve finally stopped moving, reality begins to set in. I’m so sad. I’m so embarrassed. I’m so scared.
I don’t want to fail my daughter. And I know I didn’t lose my job because I was bad at it. I was great at it. The president once called me the glue that holds the company together. But it still feels like failure. I work hard at being a role model to Lucy. I know she’s only 16 months old, but I want her to grow up seeing that a woman can be a successful individual and amazing mom at the same time. Right now I feel like a failure at both.
6:30 am – I didn’t really sleep last night. When I did manage to drift off, my dreams were anxious and vivid. Visions of going to the office to clean out my things, surrounded by caricatured business people. Cruel epithets hurled in my direction. The inability to make any progress on emptying my desk. It was better to be awake, staring at the ceiling, my heart slamming in my chest. I want to wear sweatpants today. I want to wear flip flops. I want to look like how I feel. But instead I get dressed and put on makeup and stick my feet into real shoes. John and Lucy are staying home today. I get in the car and head out, and they wave to me from the kitchen window.
7:30 am – I arrive to the office at my usual time, only I no longer have a key card to let myself in. The president opens the door for me. I could have slept in, but I wanted to do this alone. I’m not ready to see the faces of the people who didn’t come for beers – the teary eyes, the lingering pity. I’m not ready to comfort someone else through my heartbreak. And I’m not ready to hear how this is going to be a great thing, how I’m sure to turn it into an incredible opportunity. People with jobs don’t get to say that to me yet.
7:49 am – John texts me. I showed Lucy how the toilet tank works. She burst into tears like it was a monster. I smile, and then I cry.
8:20 am – How do I have this much stuff at my desk???
8:45am – I shared an office with three other women, and I leave something of mine on each of their desks. A canvas lunch tote. A little plastic confetti gun. A light bulb. I know each thing will mean something to each person. And having said no real goodbye, it’s the best I can do. I hand over my office keys and company credit card to Human Resources. I tuck my final check into my bag, and that’s that.
More than a week has gone by since the rug was pulled out from under me. Lucy is her regular old self again. I wonder if maybe it’s because I’m already starting down the road back to normal. It helps that, in the time since being laid off, I’ve been flooded with Facebook messages and texts and phone calls and emails from people I’ve gotten to know since I moved back to Minnesota four years ago. I’ve discussed prospective job opportunities over breakfast meetings and coffee talks. I’ve met with a career coach. Two lovely young women at a PR agency gave me a card that says, “When life gives you lemons, grab the tequila and salt.” And suddenly I realize, without consciously trying – in fact, just by being good at my job and being good to the people I know – I’ve built a network of people who want me to be okay. And not just okay – they want me to thrive. And that’s the lesson for Lucy. It doesn’t just take a village to raise a kid, sometimes it takes a village to help us up after the rug gets pulled out from under us.