Tagged: parenting

Story of Working Single Mom Style

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.

Story of a day keeping things together

“I don’t get the point of that movie.”

I raised my eyebrows, “Okay,” and put on my teacher voice. “If you had to guess, what do you think the point was?”

“Um… music?”

Inside I was tired and already crying. I did not have the strength to take care of myself but I had to teach this boy. I couldn’t just tell him because he wouldn’t understand. I had to teach it.

I started working around the room, feigning just enough disinterest to not scare him off. “Well, for starters, it’s an underdog story. Do you know what that is?”

“Is that a story about a competition?”

“No, not really, though it can be. An underdog story is about someone who you don’t think will do well but they work hard and you really want them to do well.”

“Oh, every movie is like that. That makes it boring.”

Internal sobs.

************

Being married to a narcissist means years and years of explaining empathy and not having yourself heard. Being discarded by a narcissist means having to rip yourself away from the person you love, realizing that he can’t love you back. Having kids with a narcissist means you may be in serious pain but you have to continue in the pain because you don’t have time to heal.

************

We had been separated 8 months and the pain was still very hard, especially on certain days. This was the first time my kids and I had come up to the cabin after their dad had taken things. There was no dining room table. The central part of the whole place– home to big meals, game nights with the neighbors, and puzzles– was gone. It was a big void and a glaring signal that our lives will never be the same again. Plus, on the way up the alternator on my vehicle had gone out leaving us stranded and alone over an hour away from either home or the cabin after garages had closed. We had to depend on the kindness of strangers and got in several hours later than expected the night before.

I was emotionally wiped. I looked forward to a distraction, so I got the movie “War Dance.” It’s a documentary about a group of orphans from the northern part of war-torn Uganda who travel to the capital where they participate in a traditional African dance competition.

I loved it for many reasons, one being that it helped me understand that my own problems are not the only ones out there. These kids were true underdogs. One child at fourteen had to take care of her four younger siblings. One had been a child soldier and had been forced to murder innocent people. One was now being taken advantage of by her aunt and blamed herself for her parents’ deaths. Those kids have it so hard but they are living their lives and living them well despite the hopelessness of their situations. I felt hope. But then…

************

“I don’t get the point of that movie.”

I no longer had to explain or try to justify my empathy to my narcissistic husband, but here I had to explain to my son and he HAD to get it. How could he not get it? I gave him the basic rundown of the story and how I felt about watching it. I was teaching him emotional vocabulary. He shrugged his shoulders.

I didn’t think I had to go here, but I guess I had to take it to the next step. “C’mon kid.” I thought, “Make the connection. FEEL something.”

“Don’t you remember?” I said, “Don’t you remember the dancing?”

“No.”

At this I think a bit of the pain showed up on my face. How could he forget? So I started explaining to him. “Many people have a hard time understanding a story when it is so much different from theirs. When everyone looks different or they live differently sometimes people have a hard time even realizing it’s real. It doesn’t feel real. But you’ve been there. You’ve seen it. You know it’s real. You saw the dancing and how important it was.”

I started to recount our travels. You see, we had actually BEEN to places like Uganda. My kids should be more prepared to have empathy for Africans than most. We went to three African countries two and four years ago. We saw people practicing traditional African dance complete with fur covered shields for a graduation celebration. We went to a village where, since they knew we were coming, they DANCED us in. They were singing and dancing in a small mud hut when we arrived and they took us by the hands and smiled and danced with us in that rhythmic, close to the earth sort of way. My youngest sat on the dirt floor with all of the kids in the village. We sat and listened as they told us their stories of turmoil. They were horrific stories. We went to a women’s prison where they were singing and dancing and little kids were wandering around, living the only life they had ever known because their mothers were in prison. We went to churches in Africa where the dancing was loud and long and important to them. I pulled up the pictures on the computer. “There you are. Remember?”

“Remember,” my internal voice begged, “you HAVE to remember!”

This smiling woman is dancing with my son while the kids clap out the rhythm. Her husband was murdered 20 years ago and she now shares a village with the murder’s family. Her pain was so real but her heart is so beautiful after forgiveness. Her heart is visible when she’s dancing and the beauty shines through her smile.  I love this picture.

In my attempt to get the kid to make a connection and experience empathy, my own soul just cried at how much he should get it, but wasn’t. He sat disinterested and ambivalent. “Huh.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t remember.” It was only a few years ago. Those trips were some of the most deep and important things we had ever done and it didn’t register. What did I do wrong as a mom that this didn’t sink in?

Conversely, why is how their dad acting taking control? Why is my son acting like this? He almost seemed proud of his ambivalence. Since his dad was gone he seemed almost eager to take his place. It was as if I felt him saying, “Mom is emotional and acts crazy sometimes. Someone has to point out to her how stupid her views are. I can’t even admit to remembering anything because she has to understand she doesn’t matter.”

************

I sighed. No point in pushing. You can’t force it. I can just pray that it’ll sink in later.

“Let’s go make cookies.”

************

The evening before two men, instead of going home after their workday, took the time to work on my vehicle and replace the alternator for us. Then they refused to take any money. I was going to be going back through where they worked the next day so I decided we would make some cookies as a thank you and drop them off at their store. I planned on making a big batch so the kids could have some as well.

But my kids groaned in response to making cookies. “I don’t want to.”

I gathered my strength again and plastered on some fake enthusiasm. “Well you get to you lucky ducks! C’mon out here and let’s do this. We need to say thank you.” More groans.

My smile faltered but I pointed my face the opposite way. No weakness. C’mon mom. You can do it.

I set the kids on jobs. One reading the recipe, one gathering ingredients. They drug themselves sulkily about their tasks but kept going. We took turns mixing and I looked into the bowl, “This looks like it needs a special mixing. Who wants to mix it with their hands?” Sly smile. Opportunity to get sticky cookie dough all over their hands? If that’s not the way to cook with kids, I don’t know what is.

“Nah.” I got from both.

My attempts to keep positive was wearing thin. Inside I was so tired. “Well,” I said, “looks like I will just have to do it. Here, hold my wedding ring while I wash my hands and do the dirty work.” My son grabbed it and dropped it on the floor. He picked it up and dropped it again. “Be careful with that. It’s very special.”

I washed my hands and opened the cabinets to grab the cookie sheets. I froze. Time stopped. I stopped breathing. Long blink. No cookie sheets. My husband had taken the cookie sheets. My brain moved slowly, I could use the… no baking dishes. He had taken the baking dishes too. Nothing was left that was safe to go in the oven. My son dropped the wedding ring again. A tear dropped down my face. My internal sobs showed up on the outside.

************

This is one day out of so very many. Not every one is so hard. Some are harder. And I don’t know what the answer is. Single parenting has many challenges including not being able to call in a partner when you’re tired and overwhelmed. Some days you cry in front of your kids over a stupid thing like not having a cookie sheet. It is quite the underdog story.

As the spouse or ex-spouse of a narcissist you are the weak one, trying, however poorly, to compete with the strong, confident one. You may know the true side to your narcissist but maybe everyone else, including your kids, thinks that he’s just so terrific. Sometimes it’s just you, seeing the true story, who knows to root for the underdog. You know you have a long way to go and so much to overcome, but when you do it will only make the story that much more glorious. It will only make your smile that much more beautiful.

But today you cry and that’s okay because you are not a narcissist and know to feel badly about the injustices. It is sad and that’s how an underdog’s story starts. You’re just in the midst of it.