Finding Your Resolve
BY JENNY B
I don’t like to be seen struggling; and, every day is a struggle.
The tension within this paradox of sorts has been driving me forward and holding me back, waking me up in the morning and telling me to go lie down, for years.
Predictably, this theme has played itself out on many stages in my life. In a dozen years of working in a secured building, I was the type of employee who never forgot her badge or keys. And, you could count on one hand the number of times I didn’t have it ready in my hand, walking from the car, to give the appearance of sailing effortlessly through the morning rush. (Having a Director stride by while seeing me struggle to find my ID badge, revealing that perhaps I was not totally organized, as I performed an archeological dig through a large and brimming bag - once was enough.)
I had become adept at anticipating the need and managing perceptions. I’ve found that has a floor and a ceiling to it, as you navigate life’s complexities.
At a cold and rainy bus stop at age 19, one of my college roommates was trying to pool and count coins so that each of the three of us could have exact fare. Impatiently, I tried to shut.it.down by snapping, “Just give $1. The fare is 90 cents.” The shortness in my tone was uncharacteristic of how we spoke to one another, and it was also one of the few times I was quickly rebuked by another of my roommates, “She’s just trying to help. We have to stand here and wait for the bus, anyway.” We were Sophomores, wise fools, at Harvard, years before the invention of smartphones and payment apps. In retrospect, I can still feel how the cold and early morning had worn on me, and how the quickness of the reactions in the situation cut to the bone: I wanted to give a dollar and not care about not getting any change in return. I didn’t want to, even so briefly, feel the weight of scholarships, part-time jobs, and student loans, while I took my winter glove off my cold and grasping fingers to search for coins to save us 10 cents a piece. That was my ‘floor’.
It’s not just about money. You won’t see me playing darts on a night out. No need to show that to the whole bar. And, it took some time for me to get comfortable playing cornhole/sidewalk-toss-bags at barbeques with family and friends, because, despite having years of experience playing sports, I worried that I wasn’t good enough at it and that my shortcomings would let my partner down. I used to anxiously only display what I felt like was good and polished enough.
This took a weird turn when I fell in love with my husband. On one of our fairly early on dates, in a crowded restaurant, I told him what amounted in my estimation to all the unlovable things he might find out about me some day. I am what some call a ‘reserved’ person. I hadn’t planned to do this. And, I can’t remember if he asked some question that prompted the first disclosure. But, once I started talking, the truth just set itself free and I looked up from the table with an expression of, “Well, now you know. And, if you are not going to love me because of it, then time to go.”
We’ve been married 10 years and our daughter is 2 years old.
I was given a wonderful gift, during a visit with my brother. At the height of the holidays, we had driven hours to be together and had almost as many children in the house as adults. I remarked on my intentions to organize and paste in photos in my daughter’s baby book, soon, and how I was going to have to paste a picture over any prompts that I couldn’t quite answer at this point, such as, “Date of first tooth.” (I don’t know. We were busy. She has a whole mouth of teeth, now, and that seems to be going fine.) This is a task I have both looked forward to, not had time for, and dreaded, in equal parts, how it was probably not going to turn out as good as I wanted it to, for her to have it for all time. Children rely on us, in their first years, more than anything. Parents and guardians have the double challenge of trying to construct and document the reality and narrative of how the journey into becoming who you are began, while trying to survive your child’s infancy.
My sister-in-law’s eyes lit up in response, “Let me show you the baby book I made for ours.” With genuine glee and openness she handed me a large, 16x16” album from a shelf where she knew exactly where it was, despite their recent move, and then almost as quickly got called away by a crying baby or a call from work. (There are many instances, and the urgency weaves together for the modern mom.)
The large volume rested on the back of the couch, I stood and took in all the ways she had outlined the memories from first sonogram through first birthday. It was a mix of glitter puffy paint, photos cropped with wiggly-edged scissors, and page titles and captions that could only have been homemade by mom – by this mom. She told me that she had done it during late and odd hours, after spending full days and sometimes nights caring for patients at the hospital. My talented sister-in-law could have made a sleek and elegant album with surgical precision. The one she made looks like it was made by a tired and loving mom. When she had pasted a few photos down and all of the next photo didn’t fit on that page, she just cut the photo and generally pasted the other part on the next page. She did while her household was sleeping, because she enjoyed doing it.
When was the last time I did something as a passion project? When was the last time you did something without judging in advance what the result would be? My nephew’s baby book was complete. And, my daughter’s was still a loosely pinned board in my mind.
Seeing how another working mom had done it, and that done was better than perfect cracked the ceiling for me. What raised the roof for me was when I saw that “Aunt Jenny’s visit” when my nephew was a new baby had its own 2-page spread. I had no idea that my harried, long-weekend visit where I dragged my brother, a-new-and-sleep-deprived-stay-at-home-dad, out to the touristy walking spots in Charleston mattered. It was the only visit we managed in the time they lived in Charleston, where my nephew was born and before I became a new mom in Chicago.
Looking at them now, the snapshots were great of my brother holding his 3-month old son in front of the 500-year old Angel Oak Tree, smiling at the Waterfront Park after we figured out how to unfold the stroller, and at all the eateries where Southern little old ladies and one gentleman cooed over him and awkwardly commented to me as if I had recently given birth to this child. (“He’s so good. Don’t have a second one! It’ll be a terror.”)
But, my nephew will know, because it’s pasted in his baby book across 2 pages.
In this season of resolutions and a new decade of hopes, that is my wish for you: to struggle, be seen, and know you are not alone. Everyone is struggling in some way. Being seen is one of the best ways to get the help or guidance that moves you forward.
I’m a writer, who prior to his hadn’t written anything in a long time. It all felt too deeply personal to share. But, what are we sharing and how are we meeting each other if not ourselves?
I’m going to keep going – when my kid is really snoring, not pretending to snore.
And, I hope you do, too. Happy New Year!
1/18/2020 08:43:56 am
Welcome Jenny B ! What an amazing article you have written as your inaugural post. Kudos to you! I admire your courage in showing this vulnerability to the readers on this site. Speaking from myself (now an old Mom), your daily struggles were those I experienced as a young working Mom. The paradox your describe is real ! How do I show my brave and courageous side to the world when I am terrified and quaking inside? On most days, I did the best I could and flew below the radar. Your story of the baby scrapbook hits home. Within the handful of minutes of spare time I had in my long, hectic days, I agonized over creating one for each for our daughters when they were born. Photos are great but, what is the best is the stories behind them. Our daughters want to hear me tell the stories behind the memories. Those images, feelings and snapshots in time, lie deep within the heart of a Mom. It is those things we treasure the most and what our children will remember. I now carry a huge, fabric handbag to hold all things I could possibly need in my daily life. Invariably, my keys find their way to the very bottom as I fish for them while my hands are filled with my water bottle and shopping bags. In all these years, some habits are hard to break. But we need to laugh at ourselves despite the daily struggles and silliness. What I realized is that everyone is in the same boat! Everyone has a rich, deep and beautiful story which needs to be shared without the fear of being judged. I truly feel that our story can help someone else to cope and to find the inspiration and courage to keep going. Jenny B., please keep writing! You do an amazing job and I want to read more of your stories. Maybe, just maybe, thru you and thru MaryBeth, I will find the courage soon to put my own stories out there for the world to see. After all, we share the same world. We share the same journey on this road of daily living. Great Job Jenny B!
1/18/2020 11:12:56 am
Thank you, Connie! I read this in the early morning light while seated on the floor next to my daughter sleeping, a tiny person in a big bed, and it meant the world to me. Thank you!
1/18/2020 02:03:28 pm
How I loved this. Thank you for sharing the unremitting pressure, real or imagined, to make it flawless. It is never flawless. But it is always perfect, somehow, when we do our best, and that means to do as many things as we can with great love and presence, to treat each other well. I also hate how social media has edged us into bimodal forms of sharing: crazy train wreck dirty laundry airing or a constrictive polishedness. Neither says anything useful about how you want to remember your life or live it.
1/20/2020 01:25:49 pm
Thank you, Janet, for sharing such powerful insight! "It is never flawless. But it is always perfect..." are words that will stay with me. Thanks for reading and sharing! We never really know who might read our words at a time when they really need to hear them. Gift-giving and connection all together.
1/21/2020 10:37:40 pm
Oh my gosh, I love so many things about this post! And about the comments above me. The “done is better than perfect” idea is something that I struggle with weekly, sometimes daily. I agonize over little details and wonder if I’m doing the right thing, if I’m good enough for the situation I find myself in. I am not a parent but I can feel how much you care, and how deeply you feel, through your words. Being vulnerable and sharing stories is both terrifying and liberating, and I think you captured the spirit of that here. Best of luck in your future writings, and future passion projects!✌🏽
1/22/2020 02:29:53 pm
Thank you, Ashley! I really appreciate how you took the time to build on our story and sense of community, here. As a first time blogger, I thought it was all about writing something that could be posted as the main piece. But, I think I'm having even more fun reading and writing back - a dialogue with other real people instead of a monologue with our own narrator/critic!
3/19/2020 09:22:08 pm
Well, it is a good thing that you are going well with life despite the struggles. Yes, it is a good thing that you are blessed in life and you are carrying it really well. At the same time, you are a courageous individual who will always find her ways just to make something for her kids. That was such a selfless person, and I hope that all mothers would definitely do the same thing. Mothers are all selfless, it just that some are just not doing the right thing.
10/15/2022 09:08:05 am
Finding your resolve is a matter of deciding what you want to do, and then doing it. It's not easy, but with the right attitude, it can be done. The first step is to decide what you want. The best way to do this is by listing the things that make you happy, or that you would like to have happen in your life. Then ask yourself if these things are important enough for them to change your life if they were gone. If not, then maybe they're not worth changing yet.
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