“‘Cause you’re, like, the coolest person I’ve ever met, and you don’t even have to try, you know… ” Juno MacGuff
“I try really hard, actually.” Paulie Bleeker
Remember that movie, Juno? I love that movie. It’s perfect. That scene, in particular, kills me dead. It such a knowing, wise, and brave thing his character says.
That was me, for most of my life. I was trying really hard, hoping it looked effortless. I was guessing at normal, and pretending I understood what this adulting thing is all about. Because, DUDE, adulting is HARD.
I think I always thought if I acknowledged how difficult I found a lot of it, it would be akin to complaining. If I said how challenging I found navigating my marriage, or figuring out how to balance being a wife and a mother- how unbelievably hard and frustrating parenting can be- it would mean I was not grateful for the many blessings in my life. I had a successful husband who was smart, and funny and who adored our kids, I had a beautiful home, I didn’t worry about the bills every month… I knew, because I’d grown up quite differently, that things could be MUCH harder than what I was going through.
I was participating in what I now call the Hardship Olympics. My struggles didn’t qualify me to compete. I still had to struggle, I just wasn’t up for any of the top prizes. I wasn’t going to medal, so I’d better just put a smile on my face and carry on.
But the thing is, ALL marriages are incredibly hard work. So is parenting. It’s okay to say that. Most important things ARE.
I think it’s why that scene in Juno is so unbelievably touching. He makes himself really vulnerable when he admits he is trying to be cool. I felt as though if I admitted how hard I was trying to successfully navigate the hoods of wife and mother, it would make it less genuine. Like those things are only states of being, and not verbs. Like we’re supposed to instinctively know how to, and easily do them without instruction or support.
It’s like trying to be a freaking surgeon without going to medical school. And then having to blithely pretend you are June Cleaver, and that you didn’t just Google, “How often am I supposed to have sex with my husband?” or “Will my child ever, for the love of all that is holy, sleep through the night?”
When I reflect on this, I think it comes down to Gene Kelly vs. Fred Astaire.
Fred Astaire is considered one of the best, most graceful dancers of all time, and justly so. He’s beautiful to watch. The word frequently associated with his dancing is “effortless.” There is zero percent chance it was effortless. Contrast that with MY favorite dancer, Gene Kelly. If you go back and look at his movies, you’ll notice a frequent theme.
Astaire was white tie and tails, Kelly was white socks and cuffed trousers. I heard somewhere that Kelly wore white socks because he wanted to call attention to his feet. He wanted us to see the work. It wasn’t easy, and he didn’t want it to look that way. I kind of love that.
That’s not bragging, and it’s not complaining- it’s FACT. Dancing like that is unbelievably hard work. So is being a partner. So is being a mother, So is being a friend. Saying something is hard work is not the same thing as saying you don’t love it, and having something come easily to you is not the same thing as enjoying it. See??? ADULTING. HARD.
Gene Kelly isn’t less of a delight to watch because you are aware of the work he put into it. He was a marvel- he was joy in action. Fred Astaire was amazing to behold on the dance floor as well- but the kind of dancing he did seemed unattainable to me. It seemed like a gift from God, not the result of hard work. The truth is, both had both God given talent and a phenomenal work ethic- one was just okay with us knowing it.
I think about that a lot these days. I’m done faking it. I was talking the other day with another writer and she was saying how excruciating the writing process is for her. Writing is generally pretty easy for me. I hesitated to say that, because it seemed obnoxious, but then when I did say it, I told her that for me, the thinking that leads up to me being able to write is the fifth circle of hell. Figuring out WHAT I want to say is much harder work for me than figuring out how to say it. SHE, apparently, thinks like a CHAMP. Whatever.
We all have areas where we struggle, we all have areas where we glide effortlessly. All I’m saying is, let’s be honest and vulnerable about it across the board, because then we all feel less alone, and more able to cope. It’s okay to say, “This is hard.” That doesn’t negate your dedication to whatever you are doing, it affirms it. It’s hard, and you are doing it anyway. You? You’re a rock star, that’s what you are.
White socks, y’all.
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