I have this new thing I’ve been doing with my kids where when they’re totally acting like shits and digging their heels in out of pure stubborness and my genes and their fathers’ in them, I give them a chance to have a do-over. “Do-over” means the four days of no screens, whole week of no YouTube, and phone confiscation I have decreed can be called off if they’ll just snap out of it and quit acting like that.
We don’t do it a lot. I’m afraid if we did, they would learn there are no consequences or Mom is weak or boundaries are not real, all the shit I got taught that I’m trying to unlearn in therapy.
Once in a while, though, I see one of them work him or her or zeself into such a self-sabotaging rampage of I-started-it-so-I-must-see-it-to-its-most-insane-ending that I take pity on the perpetrator and give them an opportunity to hit pause and decide if they really want to continue down the current fork or not.
My bosses gave me a do-over this week.
I quit my job at the bar two days before Super Bowl Sunday by standing on the bar and yelling at my manager in front of customers, then I hopped down and walked out mid-shift (and I shall call that story Not My Finest Hour, and I will tell it in whole another day). This left me jobless. Revise: I made me jobless.
It was okay, I said, because I never was supposed to stay at the bar job. It’s a means, not an end. I picked up day shifts at my old bar because I needed a distraction, something to force me to maintain some kind of routine so I wouldn’t shut down after I quit the job I wasn’t qualified for.
I’d been fundraising (allegedly) for a university, and the only related experience I had was knocking on doors in the nineties as part of a canvassing team raising money to protect the environment; this was not that. This was me at Executive Club luncheons wanting to steal the leftovers for all the homeless people outside instead of trading cards and schmoozing with potential donors—the beginnings of a midlife, existential crisis.
By my sixth month in the position, I was crying so hard most days during my morning commute that I went on antidepressants and took advantage of the first chunk of my paid FMLA time. I returned after two weeks, but I didn’t last—I burned the rest of my PTO in the fall then left.
“I’m going back to freelancing and bars,” I said. Before I’d taken the full-time job at the university, I’d been writing for a newspaper, editing a blog, and freelancing for that same institution’s Office of Marketing and Communications.
I went back to my bar (and I call it mine because I am its. The owner’s brother gave me my first job behind a bar when I was 22. I’ve danced in and out of their establishments since, and when I was pregnant with my last child, the regulars pitched in and sent gifts. This is family.), and I got comfortable. It was like going home. Autopilot on.
The Universe has a way of screaming when you don’t listen to her whispering. Each week I spent not pursuing writing work (which is the thing I actually can do with enough earning potential to afford cat food, oil changes and rent), things got a little bit louder. The warning shots kept coming, and I insisted their intervals had a good rhythm instead of taking cover.
I’m not okay, but I will be has been my refrain since I quit writing professionally. Whether I was crying in Starbucks during a Prozac-induced mixed episode or thankfully not getting murdered or police called on me, I never dipped down into true hopelessness over the last year despite a whole lot of come-to-Jesus moments and bitter pills, and I think it’s because I’ve been blessed to find the courage to speak my truth and the sense and luck to mostly say it to compassionate, safe people.
I have a circle of humans around my children and me who have me like no others, and that circle keeps growing. If I’ve learned anything in the last year, it’s how to recognize members of my own tribe and the priceless nature of shared vulnerability between people.
For nine days, I thought I didn’t work at the bar anymore. I was really scared, and I needed to be. I followed up on two writing opportunities, talked with another bar, and then I went home and told them I was sorry for screaming on the bar. And I told them the truth—I lost my shit and shouldn’t have. I’m finding balance, and it’s ugly sometimes.
They gave me a do-over, and I needed it.