I set up my inflatable pool alone. A few of my friends’ husbands offered to help, but I said no, that I could figure it out on my own with the manual. And, I did. The pool is set up, in my backyard, though apparently eyeballing whether land is flat or not doesn’t actually work and “leveling” is a thing that people do. But it’s not sagging much and the kids are happy and the filter pump is working and perfection is boring, anyway, right?
My outdoor hose wasn’t working. It was spraying water everywhere. I mentioned it to a few friends, who offered some ideas on how to fix the hose. Something called a washer was suggested more than once. So I taught myself what a washer was and set to work. Too much time passed as I tried to fit the washer where I assumed it was supposed to go, but it eventually fit, and I “fixed” (I’m being generous saying fixed) my hose by myself. To be honest, it still sprays water everywhere but only when I turn it off, and way less than before, so I call it a success.
When I moved houses, I built stackable wire shelves in my garage to add more storage space. The shelves arrived in so many parts and a single sheet of paper to serve as instructions. Easy enough. I started to build, and about thirty minutes into the project, when I was holding down the bottom shelf with my foot and balancing the top shelf on the crown of my head and trying to force a screw where it didn’t quite fit, I realized this wasn’t a one-person project—or at least the way I’d gone about it had made it not a one-person project. And yet, I didn’t ask for help. I built the shelves, which are slightly lopsided, and now trust them only with paper goods and laugh at myself every time I pass by as I try to figure out how I ended up balancing something on my head while trying to build those shelves.
There are a few themes threaded through those examples. One, I clearly have a lot to learn about owning a home. I grew up in an apartment, and leveling land, outdoor hoses, and garage storage weren’t issues my single mom had to grapple with. Two, trying to create a magical pandemic summer for my kids is exhausting. And three, I’m really terrible at asking for, and accepting, help.
But, to be fair, I have good, valid reasons for not asking for help.
Because asking for help is hard, and it was hard for me long before I became a young widow. Long before I became a young widow, I struggled with the need to prove (mostly to myself) that I could do all the things. Now, as a young widow, that need to prove I can do all the things is amplified by a million. I don’t want to feel like the damsel in distress, because the damsel in distress isn’t the one who saves the day. She’s not the hero in her story. And I have to be my own hero—now, more than ever.
Also, I don’t like to ask for help because asking for help reminds me how alone I am. Once upon a time, if the hose was leaking or the shelves needed building, I wouldn’t have to pick up the phone or look outside my home for help. I’d just call out to my husband, who’d run over to help. Or, more realistically, I wouldn’t even have to call out because he’d be right there beside me, and from the beginning we’d be attempting to solve the problem (whether it be a leaky hose or deflated inflatable pool) together. There’d be no need to ask for help at all.
And, most importantly, I don’t ask for help because when I can do the thing that makes me feel inadequate at living life alone, even if imperfectly, I am again reminded that I can do this (this thing called life) alone, even though some days it feels too hard. Whenever I step outside and see that inflatable pool gleaming in the sunshine, or see the kids using the hose as a sprinkler (because it’s got enough water pressure now), or add a stack of paper towels to the metal rack that hasn’t collapsed, I’m filled with a sense of pride and a certainty that I can do this—all of this, for as long as it needs to be done.
Each new achievement is a reminder that I can do hard things, that I’ve done hard things, that I can manage alone when being alone was never part of the plan.
The truth is though, like in nearly every aspect of life, there’s probably some happy medium, some place where it’s possible to ask for help and still feel like the hero of your own story, where it’s possible to ask for and accept help—and therefore have a leveled inflatable pool and a working hose and sturdy shelves—and still believe you are capable of doing hard things…maybe even capable of doing amazing things.
I haven’t yet learned where that happy medium is. But, I’ve learned to do hard things that seemed impossible before, and I haven’t walked away from a challenge yet. And the hero of the story always finds a way.