Doing Hard Things

Inscription on ring: "I am bad ass."
Photo by Brooke Lark; Inscription: “I am bad ass.”

I am sitting on my couch in front of a coffee table that’s usually filled with my son’s latest treasures. This week, it’s wind-up teeth that chatter ferociously, a game of pick-up sticks, a fidget spinner, some tape, a yard sale dinosaur, etc. After turning in my semester grades and completing a rather annoying school-wide assessment on each of my students, I am now officially free until the new semester begins at the end of January.

I am wanting to write something brilliant here, but I can’t predict what will happen. Stick with me, and we’ll find out, won’t we?

We’re getting to the point where a reflection on the past year is due, but it feels too early for that. My shoulders are too tight. My Christmas shopping still unfinished.

My mantra for this past semester was “you can do hard things.” This isn’t mine actually; it’s borrowed from a colleague who was interviewed in our school newspaper last year. She is a full-timer with two kids, a single mom, and still managing to get her doctorate degree. Talk about hard things.

I am not actually talking about that kind of hard. That kind of hard is beyond my reach, at this point. Let’s be fair, too, if one is to pull off that level of difficulty, one needs help. Like other solid, committed folks helping to make your life work. Many of us don’t have those resources, but hell, if you do, then go the distance.

As I was starting to say, endurance has never been my strong suit. I am more of a sprinter, as they say. I get the job done in short bursts of energy, and then I’d like to pour a cup of coffee and read a book, thank you very much. Put my feet up and listen to the air flowing from the vents. I am very much a taking-in-the-moment kind of girl. Which somehow seems like the opposite of “hard work.” Or, is it?

Staying present requires an entirely different type of endurance, doesn’t it? Paying attention to the way you are sitting, the settling of energy into your legs and feet, and the air flowing in and out of your lungs take endurance.

But this past semester, I felt a magical synergy beginning to happen. I was starting to feel that sweet spot of maintaining a calm in-the-moment presence while doing something hard. For me, this meant teaching three classes, having weekend getaways, being the central parent at home (running errands, cooking dinner, doing bedtime), and falling into a confident stride where I realized I could do it all. That it might be hard, but that didn’t mean impossible – or even that I’d be miserable.

In fact, by mid-semester, I was feeling pretty badass, if you want to know the truth. (In a humble, I know people are running Boston marathons, and that’s not me, sort of way.)

I am building endurance for a different kind of hard. The parenting stuff on its own is hard. The working while parenting on its own is even harder. The keeping your marriage exciting while parenting and working also takes effort. All of it takes time, attention, nurturing. But we can learn to balance ourselves, to prioritize, to relax into our frenetic day-to-day. We can practice intensity until it gives a little. Until it gives more and more.

We can learn how to do hard things.

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It took me a long while to consider the title for this blog. I wanted something that defined me both as a person and a writer. A name that would also perhaps speak to a particular audience. Why “The Astronaut Wife?” Since my early days of blogging, I have leaned toward more of a confessional style of writing, to some degree. I write as much truth as I can muster at each phase of life. In addition, I also come from a conservative Southern family, and I have grown very far from those roots. You could say I have rocketed to the moon in terms of my upbringing. I have rocketed away from debilitating family dynamics, from worldviews that held me beneath a rock. In my thirties, and now my early to mid-forties, I have learned to live more comfortably with both sides of the moon and write just as much about the raw, dark places as the light ones. Don’t quote me on that, though. It’s quite likely I will lean more heavily toward one or the other depending on which way the wind is blowing. Then, we get to the wife part, and quite frankly, this is where the feminist in me bucked and brayed. Identifying myself as “wife” has felt simply stymieing, particularly since becoming a mother six and a half years ago. But if the truth is going to be told, being a wife to my particular husband has altered my entire shape and has given voice to much of the inner deep. So in fact, becoming a wife was the singular most life-changing moment for me in my journey to the moon and back. Fellow travelers, you can feel safe and comfortable here. What matters more than what you might “get” about me is what you might take for yourself.

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