First, let me offer an example of the kind of struggle I’m referencing in this piece: a half gallon of spilled milk that the drips over the edge and through the cracks of the table, that splatters on fresh clothes as your toddler slaps the growing white pool with glee, that delights the dog as he laps up the puddles forming on the floor, that makes you late for work. That kind of struggle.
When my youngest was born, I knew he’d be the last. After his birth, I continued to write in my spare time, I took distance-learning writing classes (the equivalent of today’s online learning, but with big manila folders and lots of postage). The point is, I was burning through the struggle of raising three young children and working full time in order to write.
Around the time my youngest graduated to the potty-training class at daycare, something shifted. The struggle wore down the eagerness of my passion. Most of the writing stopped. Why?
Struggle or Badge?
Like many who drop their passions to deal with the duty of diapers, dinner, and work, I blamed the struggle. But was it the struggle? Or was it the way I wore it?
Morning after morning, I’d show up with my youngest and a bag of cotton undies, plastic potty-training bloomers, and the heavy badge in tow.
“Good morning, Ms. Pennie! How are you today?”
I would answer the relentlessly cheerful greetings from Ms. Betty and her assistant by whipping out my badge and delivering the morning struggle news.
- Oh my, I had this one dressed to go, van loaded, picked him up to put him in his seat, and I smelled it. Poop. Loaded…
- … before I could get back to the stove, the eggs were burned…
- I looked for my keys for thirty minutes…
- … all the clean undies I have because the dryer broke…
And on and on, every damned morning. The struggle right there, front and center.
Stories of struggle can be entertaining. Funny. Cathartic even. But those cheerful How-are-you?s were not requests for story time. They were just greetings, and I was dumping my struggle all over the cheer of the two women who would spend the next eight to ten hours corralling and potty training two-year-olds in between the actual story times and snacks.
“You think you have it bad, let me tell you what happened at my house this morning…”
Then one morning, I saw it. Sweet Betty and her aide exchanged a look when I whipped out my struggle badge to announce the sad story of the morning.
I think (I hope!) I arrested my story at that moment. On the drive to the university, my hands squeezed and twisted around the steering wheel as I processed how I had tortured those two women morning after morning for months.
And who else had I tortured with my tales of mothering woes? More importantly, did all those tales help diminish the struggle?
Not a Badge
A couple of weeks ago I read several inspirational snippets from different sources that, in a nutshell advise, struggle is not a badge of honor.
My favorite is perhaps this one: “Struggle was never a virtue but we misunderstood it for one, and whilst hard work is wonderful, so is ease, balance, harmony and rest.” (Kerry K.)
I needed the reminder. Three decades after that moment of clarity, I still wrangle with this.
Our stories of frustrations can truly be amusing. But if we always lead with them,—and if those stories are all we have to offer—our audience will begin to exchange looks and roll eyes. Drowning ourselves and others in those stories won’t diminish the struggle.
Reflecting on those times when I wore struggle as a badge of honor, I think the badge intensified the infelicities and invited more of the same.
So, next time I receive a polite how’re-you-doing? greeting, I’ll remember it’s okay to respond with an equally polite, if empty, greeting.
“Fine. And you?”
Or, if I want to keep it real, I can share the good stuff.
“Great! I started my day with an unexpected call from my youngest. He’s coming to visit this weekend!”
(And he no longer requires plastic bloomers.)
©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2022