I cried today. At work. Twice. Once in front of HR. This is cringeworthy stuff and today I did it. Just a few days ago I had a good ol’ sobfest in the bathroom at work as well– doing the obligatory praying that no one walks in to use the bathroom for something so trivial as peeing. So at which point did the official title fairy come down and hand me my “pathetic” badge? To discover my official title perhaps we should dig into the details a bit.
Women, it seems, are NOT allowed to cry in the workplace. Ever. It’s weak. It’s awkward for your coworkers. It’s off-limits. If a woman is okay with donning the “weak” title they may be permitted to cry if their dog has died (as long as it was cute and you always showed everyone pictures) or if you accidentally cut your hand off with a bandsaw. That’s about it. And you have to be the stereotypical weak woman whom the management can refer to as the “girl up front” and will never, never rise enough to break the glass ceiling, much less even attempt it.
I cried in the workplace because I was tired of being weak. My coworker had asked as soon as I walked in that morning, “Did you let [the boss] know that you won’t be in tomorrow?” and that started my brain rolling. I realized that I was fed up and at a loss at being trampled on, used, and considered the weak one. I realized that I would not be in at work tomorrow because I was going to stay home with my son and because of that I would not get holiday pay. But it gets even more infuriating.
My job had actually been very, very flexible with me. When I went to them and said I needed more work they set me right up with a new position for me and now, nearly a full year later, I was still choosing my hours so that I could be home when the kids were not in school. During the summer I worked second shift sporadically so that I was only going in when my husband had the kids. No one else in the office worked second shift. And I was strong. I told them what I could work and only worked then and I got my work done, never missing a deadline, never having any quality issues. But one day, on a fluke day that I was able to, I came into the office during the standard work day, and was called to my boss’ office. “We need someone to work full-time,” he told me. “We need someone consistently here during the day,” he said. “If you can’t do that, we have to let you go.”
Over the next few days I processed and churned and my then far from weak persona came up with a proposal. I had three demands: 30 hours instead of forty hours a week during first shift, a few extra weeks vacation than a normal fresh hire, and I would start when the summer was over. The thirty hours got me leaving two hours early each day so I could still pick up my sons from school, the vacation time made sure we could still travel and do fun things, after the summer was over was so my kids could have one more year of what they are accustomed to before having to adjust to being official latchkey kids.
I told my coworker my plan and she was excited. She had worked there over thirty years and was so happy with me she was glad I was finding a way to make it work so I could stay on permanently. She began talk of being able to retire when it was time, leaving things in good hands.
I emailed the proposal to my boss. He said no.
They wanted a forty hour week. He said they were very, very happy with my work and made it clear that they had no issue with my performance and recognized that I always, consistently got more work done than anyone else on regular time, but he told me no. He told me they would keep me on through the summer, a few more months, so that I could train my replacement: a young, fresh-faced woman who was just ending a temp position… in my boss’ wife’s department.
I couldn’t cry then. I wouldn’t cry then. I was strong. I didn’t need this job. I was allowed to state what I needed and they were allowed to say no and do what they thought best for the department, no matter what their reasoning. I would be fine. I met my replacement with a smile and trained her with all the gusto that I put into any of my work. I was strong.
But a few days ago I cried in the bathroom. Over about a month training went well but my own financial issues were rocky, to say the least. My riding mower broke (after a few attempts at self repair) eventually revealing that I needed several hundred dollars to replace it. My car had an issue I tried to fix by dumping nearly a thousand dollars into it and then, less than a week later, the transmission died. Then my dryer began to squeal. The water hose on the back of the fridge started spraying water everywhere. My oldest son wanted to join soccer and my youngest wanted to learn to play an instrument. All this and my job was ending. My business needed growing but I can’t put the work into advertising and finding clients because during the day I am at this other job. And, in the midst of all this, my husband tells his lawyer that I am capable of making more than four times what I am currently making (and several tens of thousands of dollars more a year than he even makes) so that is why he shouldn’t have to pay any support whatsoever.
So I’m was waivering but I was still not weak, I could still be considered strong. I tried to figure out in my weariness how to make lemons into lemonade and realize that maybe a lump sum up front to go back to school is better than trying to expect a monthly payment from my husband. I got my feet under myself just a tad and talked up how I’m going to pull things together so that I don’t have to rely on the support at all. He doesn’t want to pay? Fine, he can just less pay up front and be done and I would go back to school and move into a better life not needing his support.
A few days ago my trainee signed the official paperwork that she was past the probation period and keeps the job. Over and over I overhear, “Congratulations! So glad you’re staying!” Then I hear her tell them how great it is and how she realized that this job would be better for her than even going back to school because of the benefits and the experience.
Me. Bathroom. Sobbing. My husband wouldn’t agree to the lump sum anyway. He’s insistent on paying nothing at all.
Later that night I got a bill from my husband for half of the high-end school supplies he bought for the boys without telling me. I start to argue but just end up telling him I’ll pay whatever because I can’t weather another fight.
All that is shoulder slumping but today the full extent hit me. How I was the one getting cheated. Today my coworker reminded me to let my boss know I wouldn’t be in the day before a holiday. When you don’t work the day before/after a holiday, you don’t get holiday pay. EVERY time a holiday comes around the kids have something going on where I end up not working the workday before/after. It does not matter that almost EVERY holiday this last year they have spent with their dad or that I would happily work on the actual holiday itself instead of sitting home alone except the company is closed so “our employees can spend time with their families.” Most of the time the day I am taking off is their dad’s day to be responsible for the kids anyway, but he NEVER takes off. He is perfectly fine just leaving them alone in his apartment all day when they don’t have school while he goes to work.
And the kicker? We work at the same place. My husband is livid that I am still working there and he has been looking for other work, (with my phone number on his resume so I get the calls, no lie) because he hates it there but loves to complain more than he hates to actually move jobs.
I want to work there. My husband doesn’t. Yet he gets to keep his job, gets full benefits, makes his schedule and travels the way he wants to so he can lie to the court that he “needs” a certain placement schedule, and yet whenever he doesn’t have the kids he lives in a hotel and gets all of his expenses paid for by this company and recently he even got upgraded to the latest iPhone through work (which is also a paid expense for his department.) And I am losing my job because I want to leave two hours early every day to do a thing that he would never consider doing: keeping things consistent for our kids and having an available parent say to them through actions that they are a priority.
So today I cried.
But did I really cry because I was weak? No. I cried because I wasn’t strong enough for myself, my kids, my husband, and my boss. Not strong enough does not automatically mean weak. It just means that there is too much pressure.
Sometimes we simply can’t take the pressure off either. Sometimes the refrigerator will break and we can’t tell it, “Not today.” Sometimes an angry and vindictive abusive spouse will take advantage of you. Sometimes something will happen at work that simply doesn’t benefit you. On those days, it’s okay to cry in the bathroom. It’s okay to feel the injustice and mourn what you’ve lost, are losing, and will soon lose.
Maybe when you’re crying someone else will come in, just thinking they need to pee, and will catch a glimpse of reality. It may seem messy, but it’s reality. If that happens you have another adventure. Will that person be standoffish or understanding? Will they be judgy or comforting? Will you have the opportunity to practice dealing with an unhearing world, or will you have the opportunity to be supported by a caring world? Who knows. That’s what makes it an adventure.
But if you go into the bathroom at work and find someone crying you can be that second person. You can show some compassion and help change a society that often negates emotion. You can wait with them and hand them paper towels from the dispenser to dry their eyes. Because sometimes things are just hard for all of us and you won’t be able to know all the ugly details about that other person, but they need to feel like it’s okay to cry so you can show compassion when they need it. You can know without even knowing.
Oh, and when I cried in front of HR? I felt like such a loser when I couldn’t hold back the tears, but she was one of those compassionate people. She made sure I got paid the holiday pay. Looks like everything will work out. There is hope. Things will be okay.