Hayley’s envelope of improg words arrived on Friday and it’s been hard for me to resist peeking. I used to be a peeker (and in my heart I still am). I would search for my Christmas and birthday presents, unwrapping and rewrapping them if necessary to see what they were. Given the amount of tape my mom used, this was quite a feat to do undetected. But I’ve been shamed into giving up peeking now that I have kids who were born with much more self-control than I have.
“What’s Mom doing under the bed? Hey, she’s peeking at her Christmas presents!”
This morning I approached Hayley’s envelope with trepidation. As I’ve mentioned, I never know what to expect from her. She’s easily capable of giving me challenging words like toenail or booger (actually, I could write something about booger). But the one I pulled out isn’t too bad.
My improg word for today is grin. The first thing that popped into my head was the phrase grin and bear it—kind of appropriate as I had a 7:00 a.m. dental appointment today (what the heck was I thinking when I agreed to that?). Since I’m a linguist (and, yes, a dork) and can’t resist a dictionary, I looked it up. The official sources I found gave the meaning as something like “putting up with something unpleasant in a stoical way,” but a few other sources gave a definition like “putting up with something unpleasant with good grace and humor.”
Throughout our lives, there are so many things that we have to bear. Children bear adults telling them to do their chores when they’re in the middle of something important like building a Lego city. Teenagers bear braces, zits the size of Manhattan, and parents who are the stupidest people on the planet. Too many kids bear unbearable school days, bored or lost or worried about bullies, counting the minutes until they can go home. Adults bear jobs they don’t like, bad relationships, infinite-loop conversations with aging parents, duties that weigh heavily on their shoulders.
As we try to help our son deal with bullies, we talk a lot about the line between grinning and bearing a situation and trying to change it. Through personal experience and volunteering with Chemo Angels, I’ve watched amazing families bear the horror of cancer with good grace and humor while simultaneously fighting it tooth and nail. I also know people who have borne unhappy lives for decades without making any effort to change their circumstances. What distinguishes grinning and bearing it from giving up?
I think the difference lies in two things: control and attitude. If you can take steps to improve the situation, bearing it doesn’t make sense. But if you really have no control, or if exerting your control would have worse consequences, grinning and bearing it might be what you have to do. Then whether the situation is a source of growth or a soul-killer depends on your definition of grin and bear it—that is, whether you emphasize the grinning or the bearing. I’ve tried both and I much prefer the unofficial definition.