We Can Do Hard Things

(Even when it feels like we’re damned if we do, and damned if we don’t)

Smokey Sun, Seattle, Sept. 12, 2020. Noon

Here in Seattle, the air quality index is the third worst in the world, behind only our neighbors to the north in Vancouver, B.C. and our neighbors to the south in Portland, Oregon, where the AQI broke records this weekend.

This week, our school district held its first full week of remote learning, nearing six hours a day of online instruction for many children, my son included.

And the coronavirus pandemic still rages.

It is a lot.

Lately, it feels like my motto has been: “Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.”

I can’t shoo my screen-glazed children outdoors to play because there are carcinogenic toxins in the air.

I can’t take them to a movie theater, because they are still closed due to COVID.

And I can’t concentrate on my own work, because my brain feels pulled like putty in so many different directions.

My daughter’s small part-time homeschool program is finally able to meet in person since quarantine, but they had to go online for the first day due to the smoke.

I have a degree in education, but managing remote learning for one child and homeschool for the other feels beyond my capabilities.

I am a literal screentime expert, and I cannot make a clear choice about pulling my son out completely because the experience is not within our values, or leaving him in as part of a remote community because it is better than no community at all. He’s 12. At what point does he get a say in this?

I feel scattered. Unfocused. Overwhelmed. On the verge of keeping it together.

And yet.

I have a job. I have a house with a good air-filtering furnace. I have food in my refrigerator. I can stay indoors, even if I don’t want to. My family is not running from literal fires.

I feel resigned, discouraged, and hopeless.

But I also can’t bear the thought of looking at my children and saying, “I give up.”

When we pulled my daughter out of school in November last year, she had stopped eating; she slept in our room at night; and she was biting her lip so hard it was chronically inflamed. It was the lowest of lows for our family at that point in time.

During that time period, we played a lot of “Go Fish” with a deck from Hawaii, laughter slowly returning as we stumbled over the unfamiliar fish names, like the euphonious “humu-humu-nuku-nuku-apua’a.”

There were still a lot of tears and sleepless nights, but as we healed, our refrain became, “We can do hard things.”

Doing Hard Things, 2019

Now, as a pandemic rages, as fires despoil the beauty of the West, as political strife climaxes, as our kids struggle to learn through a glass screen, we have to do hard things.

Of course, it is a privilege for me to be able to say this.

Many communities have been doing hard things like this for years or decades or centuries.

Maybe people experiencing these new hardships for the first time will find empathy for the suffering that has long existed for others. Maybe those with power and resources will choose “courage over comfort” (h/t Brené Brown) and fight to help others.

I have hope for this.

To those of us with the privilege to do so, it is time to push through the difficult, to persevere through the challenges, and talk through our feelings and fears with our families and children so that they know that hard times don’t mean end times, even if that’s what it feels like right now.

As a wise person once told me, however, it doesn’t work to compare suffering.

Pain is pain. Hurt people hurt people. There is a lot of healing that needs to happen, globally, environmentally, politically, yes, but it starts in our homes, with us.

It starts with us pushing back the covers each morning and choosing to get up and fight for a better world.

What is the alternative?




Emily is a speaker, writer, consultant, and parent of two. A former middle school teacher, she is now the founder and owner of The Screentime Consultant.

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Emily Cherkin

Emily Cherkin

Emily is a speaker, writer, consultant, and parent of two. A former middle school teacher, she is now the founder and owner of The Screentime Consultant.

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