I’m losing my hair. And, while in the grand scheme of things, this is minor, it’s also not.
We’ve all seen them. The articles about how moms are suffering. A New York Times article headline recently read – in a large, matter-of-fact font – “America’s Mothers are in Crisis”. Women are leaving the workforce in droves. Women are losing their jobs at rates epically higher than men. And I imagine those of us who are left, are trying desperately – by a hair one might say – to hang on. To our sanity. Our mental health. Our demeanor. Our jobs. Our families. Our lives, really.
We are in crisis.
And yet, nothing. Nothing has really changed.
A year ago, I started a new job. Three weeks later, we went remote. Today, I’m a shadow of that woman who excitedly accepted the offer. And yet, I log on to work every day and put on a happy face. I sit stoic on my calls when I’m interrupted, talked over and completely ignored by my counterparts – whom even after a year, are strangers. I sit and smile politely in all my meetings as my kids ask me questions about their own Zoom calls or try to tell me animal facts about the book they’re reading for class; Moments that a year ago I would have embraced, I ignore now. I show up every day, all day to my meetings and ask how others are doing when they don’t seem particularly invested in how I’m doing. I show up every day and gracefully absorb dismissive men, arbitrary feedback and other people’s bad days. But still, I show up.
And even though every night before I go to sleep I wonder if tomorrow will be the day that I can’t do it anymore and become a stat in the crisis, I still show up. I show up and I listen and learn and I stare into my Zoom at my thinning hair line that no one else will notice.
Last week, the results of my annual review were released. I sat on my island of one and read comment after comment about how I was too quiet and not quite where I should be, I followed along as twenty-some of my “peers” came to the conclusion that I must not be hungry enough. I never thought I’d experience almost everything that happened this year, but this one somehow took the cake.
For someone who – for all the obvious reasons – wanted to set her hair on fire for an entire year, who almost lost her husband to alcoholism more than once, who – in all seriousness – wondered regularly between meetings what would happen if she jumped off the roof and still showed up every day, empathetic, kind and hell bent on doing her work, it never once occurred to me that my survival mode could be interpreted as complacent. Any other year, I would have known better – and I would have cared.
But everyone didn’t only agree that I wasn’t hungry enough, they also agreed I was honest, nice, humble and thankful. And there within lies the bitter truth, I am quiet and I am struggling to prioritize work. But, day in and day out, I am endlessly thankful – especially this year – and I’ve been kind and understanding, even when people didn’t deserve it. And, more so, I’ve – like moms do – made it a point to be sure I show care and empathy before I do all the things a woman has to do to climb the proverbial ladder. And I’ve watched as moms around the world are do the same.
Moms in crisis are still moms and that’s part of the crisis, too.
This morning, a friend texted me a separate article from The Times. The headline read, “It’s Not Your Imagination: The Pandemic Is Making Your Hair Fall Out”. It reminds me of those early days postpartum. Defined by hair loss, strong waves of depression, learning how to function on no sleep, with your heart walking around outside your body, wanting nothing but to make sure your humans knew you were there and they were safe. Learning how to give all of ourselves so they could grow and become. In those early days, the world seemed a little more uncertain than it ever had, my brain was suddenly rearranged and caring was my purpose and way of survival all in one. The similarities are eerie.
Most days, this feels like the last straw of a very long year. Other days, it feels ridiculously like the last leg of the journey through the desert for Khaleesi and soon we will all walk into the fire, reckoned to become. The optimist in me – hanging on by, quite literally, a hair – is convinced it’s the latter. The rest of me, in true mom fashion, is too depleted to care.