All The Things I Cannot Say

The last few months have been very introspective for me. Winter always is, but this one especially for reasons that are very personal.

I’ve always suffered from Seasonal Affected Disorder. If you look at my grade cards from childhood, third quarter was always a slog with notes about missed assignments and distracted behavior. And always when spring came, I rebounded. This year, I decided to try combatting those winter blues with light therapy, and it seems to have made a difference.

Still, it’s not just short days and long nights that got me down.

My parents are getting older, and it falls to me to take over things that they used to manage themselves in the past but for one reason or another those tasks are now too difficult for them to tackle. I don’t mind doing these jobs. After all, they took care of me when I was too young to do things for myself, so it seems only right that I should return the favor. However, it makes me melancholy to see that they’re less able. They’ve always been very active and spent most of my life going from project to project with undimmed enthusiasm. They built everything from boats to houses to furniture. They approached each challenge with excitement and pride in a job well done, and if there was a skill they hadn’t yet acquired, they studied until they were able to do the work and gain mastery in the task. In the past, I had an assistant role, following their direction and guidance. And while many would say that I have grown to be a very independent woman, still I feel unready to take the lead.

In December, my father expressed a deep desire to change the color of the back room that is my parents’ den. He’s not able to do the job himself, so unless we hired someone, the work was going to be my responsibility. I wanted to do it for them. But before I could paint the walls, I needed to do some repairs to the drywall that went beyond simple spackling. One of the seams had drywall tape that had buckled and was peeling loose. In order to fix that seam, I would have to cut the old tape out and then attempt the job of plastering and taping with new joint compound. It’s a job I had watched and done with help, but I’d never attempted the work on my own before. I found the prospect daunting, and even as I began the project, I heard my inner perfectionist telling me I would never get it right, that I wasn’t skilled enough to make the seam disappear. For a couple of weeks, I was immobilized with lack of confidence, procrastinating while I watched how to videos on YouTube and worrying that I’d only make a mess of the wall.

Then I finally realized that my parents weren’t always skilled at the jobs they tackled when I was growing up. They just did the work anyway and learned as they went. I had always thought of them as the experts and felt I needed to have constant handholding because I didn’t trust my own abilities to do the job to a standard they would be proud of. But as I applied the joint compound and sanded away imperfections in my work, I realized that the only person who would see the flaws was me. I didn’t have to be perfect. I only had to do my best and do the job with love.

The room is finished now. Mom and Dad love the way it turned out, and I’m pretty happy with it too. It isn’t perfect, but neither is life. My work doesn’t have to be perfect in order for me to be proud of having done it. I learned as I worked, and next time I have to do that sort of job I’ll be better at it. More importantly, I won’t be so hesitant to try something I don’t know how to do. I just have to remember that even if I don’t know how to do it yet, I can learn, and if I fail, I have still learned something. That’s a gift my parents gave me, and it will continue to bring me joy and satisfaction each time I try something new.

No, my parents aren’t able to do all the things they used to do. But I can see now that I’m far more able to step up and take over where they left off. All this time, I thought they were teaching me skills for specific tasks. But now I realize they taught me how to be brave enough to try even when I don’t know what to do, how to learn what I need to know, and how to enjoy the end result even when I know there are imperfections.

I’m slowly emerging from my dark days as the days gradually grow longer. Getting through it means being patient and kind to myself while I am struggling. I know once the weather warms, I will feel the resurgence of energy I’ve come to know so well each spring. When I do, I bring with it the knowledge that I have the strength to take on new challenges, and long after they’re no longer here to guide me, I’ll have those experiences to look back on and help guide me on my way forward. For that lesson, I am eternally grateful.

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