Thoughts

Calling a Code Brown

March 23, 2017

Last week, I ran into my sweet new friend in the parking lot at preschool.

“Hey! Did you get a new car?” I asked her.
“No, I got in an accident.”
“Oh my gosh! Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Because I’m not that person. I don’t like to be Debbie Downer.”
“But, I don’t care if you’re Debbie Downer. You got in an accident?”
“I’m just not having a good week. I screamed at the kids yesterday for no reason, and I’m cranky, and …”

I was watching a very familiar ball of yarn – one I personally keep in my nightstand, next to the melatonin and emergency candy bars – unravel.

She’d taken a mental health day from work, she went on to say, because things were just piling up. Between yelling at her boys and being annoyed with her husband and questioning all of those pesky major life questions, she was mentally depleted and in need of a mindless, indulgent Netflix binge. As I stood there, an unforgiving morning wind intruding in our conversation, I listened as this strong woman, who I deeply care for, talked herself down into a hole. It was a ritual I’d practiced myself and with almost all of my girlfriends, my sister, and my own mother. I waited for an opening.

“Listen, I know exactly how you feel. All moms feel that way. We all have those lows and days where we feel totally defeated, and it’s OK! I promise. I was standing with my toes to the edge last week. And now you’re up. We all just take turns.”

I think we can all agree it’s time to call it good on the charade. Being a mom in any capacity on any day that ends in “y” is a crazy occupation. Crazy! Anyone ambitious enough to think they’re going to climb that ladder has another thing comin’. Between the demand and the clients and the hours, mere survival is considered an above par performance on the job. There are two kinds of days: The days you have enough milk for their cereal, and the days you have to go out into the garage and grab a new gallon. The days you catch the bus, and the days you chase it down and get reprimanded by the driver. The days you make it to work without incident and the days you hit the bump and spill coffee down your white button-down blouse sleeve.

I can tell you, within 10 minutes of my children waking, what kind of day lies ahead of me. I can feel it. Like the air before a tornado – Mother Nature’s hot breath. But we don’t show the sweat on our faces, no. We smile and we press on and we push all the shit way down deep because we think it makes us less of a mom or less of a wife or less of a woman if we aren’t acing all the things, all the time. Well, guess what … that’s bullshit.

I always say, God makes ‘em cute so you don’t kill ‘em. In my case, he doubled up just to be sure and made them funny, too.

On one particularly trying morning, I slipped and let the truth serum seep in. When Cheri in my office asked how my morning was, I said, “Oh, I’m fine, thanks, other than the fact that I want to go on strike against my entire family for a few days.” A spark flickered in her eyes. “You know,” she said, like a kid at confession, “once when the kids were little, I told my husband he had to take them and I checked myself into a hotel for the weekend. I just watched TV, did a little shopping, ate.” We laughed like idiots, and I thought about how many other times I should have put out the invitation for other mothers to share their tales from the trenches.

In the parking lot that morning, if I squinted really hard, I could see the little armies waging battle inside my girlfriend. One side was fighting in the name of vulnerability and transparency and saying all of the depressing shit she was really feeling, while the opposition was willing to die on that hill for the sake of smoothing it all over with a laugh and a shrug. I’m familiar with that war, that struggle. How much to share, when to share it, how to sugarcoat it, which parts of the day’s failures I should censor for fear of how it will poison the perception of my otherwise “tidy” life.

We women, we are an efficient bunch. We are anticipatory. We are prepared and organized and concerned. We shoot ourselves in both feet day after day after day by getting everyone up and dressed and fed and out the door. We sign permission slips and send notes about doctor’s appointments and talk to the sitter at length about the quality and quantity of the baby’s bowel movements. We do it because somebody has to do it. But sometimes, being the somebody who does it just chews you up and spits you out.

In holistic nursing, there’s something called a Code Lavender. When the code is called for a caregiver, he or she is given a purple bracelet to wear, signifying they are in emotional distress. People might be a little kinder, a little more understanding, a little quicker to forgive minor oversights. Well, I’d say it’s time for moms to get a code of their own. Code Yellow, maybe? Code Brown? (Signifying we’re in deep shit.) That way, we can offer hugs, or cocktails, or comforting cuss words to our fellow comrades who are momentarily flailing.

If you have a perfect household with a perfect spouse and perfect children and everything is all Marie Kondo perfect everywhere, that is incredible. But, for the rest of us, it’s really easy to feel lonely sometimes. We think we’re alone in thinking our kids are assholes on occasion. We think we’re the only one who wants to stop for a drink after work on Thursdays instead of sitting in the carpool pickup line. We think there’s a conspiracy that our neighbor’s house is always suspiciously clean while ours is reproducing dust at a mind-boggling rate. We hide our secret Lucky Charms addiction and exchange kale salad recipes.

But the Code Brown could revolutionize our sorority.

For example – and this is entirely hypothetical – if I saw you pulling into the local watering hole on a Monday afternoon and we locked eyes, and you just happened to flash your poo-colored wristband, I might offer to pick up your kids and keep them busy for an hour, no questions asked. And you would return the favor two days later, when it was me sporting the bracelet. If you saw me carrying a snot-covered, entirely hysterical child out of the grocery store and glanced down to find a doo-doo-hued decoration south of my fingers, you would know to say a silent prayer for my sanity (and my child). And I would do the same for you that Friday when you replicated the scene in the McDonald’s playdome. It’s an emotional exchange program, rooted in support and understanding.

So, who’s in? Who’s comin’ with me here?

Let’s remove the stigma staining our struggles and choose, instead, to help a sister out. Friends, I do not mind having your children over to play for a bit, no strings or expectations attached. It does not inconvenience me to listen to your recount of just how irrational your daughter got over al dente noodles last night. No one can hear a mother’s cries and gripes like another mother. I say it can’t count as a true failure if you speak it aloud and set it free.

I’m here. And I know you are, too.

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