Rebranding My Mom

On parents, layoffs, and resume templates

Harris Sockel

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Photo: SG Hirst/Image Source/Getty Images

TThree years ago, my mom lost the job she’d had for 35 years — as a dental hygienist in my hometown. When she called to tell me she’d been let go, her voice was automatic, like the words were marching out of her mouth and she was trying to get out of the way.

Cuts, she said. Restructuring. Losses. Thirty seconds of corporatese to hide the rawest kind of fear and confusion — which, honestly, is hard to hear from your mom.

My parents have almost no savings. My dad has a heart condition that disappears his Social Security checks, and the rest of their cushion was burned by my B.A. in English. So when Mom lost her job, it mattered. My parents considered selling their house for a ground-floor condo behind a FedEx.

“Downsizing,” my dad had said, like the two of them were a business deciding to lay off my childhood bedroom and the yard where we used to make snow angels.

I was 25. Underemployed and living in New York. My safety net had lost her safety net.

“Are you good at writing cover letters?” Mom asked one night. She’d never written one.

When your mom loses her job, you realize all those years of turning you into you — waking up at 3 a.m. to clean your vomit, fielding existential crises, driving you home from high school ragers — aren’t things she can line-item on a resume. You start to see your mom as other people do: A 57-year-old who’s had the same job her entire life, jumping into the market of the two-thousand-teens: A market full of LinkedIn “influencers,” Twitter gurus, and people who’ve turned their interests into Interests™.

MMom asked me to write her first cover letter. I typed three double-spaced paragraphs about cleaning teeth. I was slightly hungover, though, so I accidentally included my phone number in the signature block. The next day I received a call from someone addressing me as “Mrs. Sockel.” We straightened it out eventually.

“Ugh, do you know how to make the margins smaller in Word?” Mom texted a week later.

The other thing that happens when your mom loses her job is she reveals the frustrated, career-less 20-something that’s been living inside her your entire life. It’s surprising…

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