In mid-March, our part of Vermont experienced a late-season blizzard. Winter Storm “Vulcan” dumped about twenty inches of snow on our yard in twenty-four hours.
It’s the time of year when my husband starts dreaming about Florida. Not me; I love snow, and I firmly believe that if you live in Vermont, winter should include lots of snow. I tracked Vulcan’s imminent arrival, checking excitedly to make sure that my weather app still had snowflakes covering Wednesday and Thursday.
Then, around 6 AM on Wednesday, the phone rang. “No, NO, NO!” I muttered as I picked it up. The recorded voice of the school superintendent informed me that school was cancelled for the day.
This was more distressing than an ordinary snow day, because the snow had only begun; the heaviest snow was supposed to come later, which meant that Thursday would surely be a snow day as well. And the day after that — Friday — was already a teacher workday. Friday also happened to be the day my husband was leaving on a weekend work trip, and I’d been counting on Wednesday and Thursday to prepare for three days flying solo with four young children.
So when I picked up the phone on Wednesday morning, it was with the realization that I was now in for FIVE days — days that would include severe weather — with all four children, all the time. Every fiber of my being said NO.
After denial came self-pity. WHY, God?!? Didn’t I have enough to handle when everything in life was chugging along? Why did two snow days have to coincide with a school holiday and an absent husband? It’s not fair!
I wallowed in self-pity, verging on depression, for the rest of the day. That night, when the girls were in bed and I sat down with my husband for our nightly check-in, I was low — I couldn’t find any joy, I couldn’t imagine how I’d get out of bed in the morning, I felt like I was at the bottom of a deep pit, trying to claw my way to the surface.
“Well, at least we’re all together,” my husband said, by way of reassurance. That’s exactly the PROBLEM!! I narrowly managed to avoid screaming.
It may seem overly dramatic that a snow day sent me into this kind of tailspin, but sometimes that’s all it takes. This was not my first such tailspin, nor will it be my last. But I’ve found a way to escape these emotional oubliettes: TIME. In colloquial terms, my approach to the lows can be summed up as: Hang in There, Baby.
Hang in There, Baby was the snappy slogan printed on a popular 1970s poster, over a photo of an adorable kitten hanging from a bar by two paws. The poster’s been reprinted many times, and the phrase “Hang in there” overused until it’s come to seem trite, even unsympathetic. But I’m learning that, when it comes to the hard things in life, “Hang in there” is often the best strategy.
I’ve experienced the wisdom of hanging in there regarding my physical health. As a thirty-eight-year-old who birthed four children in five years, all of whom are currently between the ages of eleven months and six years, I got aches and pains! Sometimes it seems like I’ve signed up for the “Discomfort of the Week Club.” This is hard for me, as someone who’s been in excellent health for three decades. Every time a new discomfort rears its symptoms, I start worrying that I’ll need to see a doctor — something I try to avoid due to a combination of logistical difficulty (four kids!) and an irrational fear of annoying the doctor.
Experience has taught me that usually I don’t need to see the doctor. In almost every case, if I just hang in there for a week or two, I feel better. Our bodies are amazing, and they’re designed to heal themselves. [DISCLAIMER: Common sense is the rule of thumb here; clearly there are many situations when a trip to the doctor is absolutely necessary!]
The same is often true when it comes to emotional discomfort: If I have the patience to sit with the pain, eventually it will subside and I’ll rediscover my joy. [DISCLAIMER: Common sense rule, again! If you can’t get out of bed in the morning, have thoughts of harming yourself or others, etc., do NOT sit with the pain! I’m talking about the doldrums, not severe depression.]
The branch that I cling to when I’m hanging in there is hope: hope that the physical or emotional pain will ease in time, that what oppresses me today will not last forever. And hope that, in the meantime, there’s a God who understands my suffering hanging in there with me.
In the case of my unexpected long weekend, with time I was able to see beyond my own self-pity. And I saw that I wasn’t flying solo, after all. In fact, every one of those five days I was helped by gracious friends: the friend who (six months pregnant with her fourth child) watched my three oldest girls so that I could make an appointment before the blizzard struck, the friend who walked her two children through the blizzard to come play, the friend who (having just given birth to her third child) hosted two of my daughters to an afternoon playdate, the babysitter who stayed with my baby so that I could take my oldest three to a performance — where another mother met me to provide backup in case my girls got wiggly. The only one of those helpers whom I contacted directly was the babysitter; everyone else dropped into my lap.
I thought I’d be flying solo, but I wasn’t even at the controls.
So, my friend, if you find yourself down in the pit, here’s my advice for you: Hang in there, baby. If that sounds trite, check out Psalm 40, which says essentially the same thing (U2 even made it into a song). Sometimes you just need to wait patiently in the dark for a while. And then, when your eyes start to adjust and you can see those little hooks of hope leading the way out, grab onto them.