Years ago, I was convinced by my dear friend Samantha to sign up for an improv class she was teaching. At the scene work and character study I was awkward and inept, coming into my own only once as I played a drunk Southern belle. Nevertheless, from that eight-week course I took a phrase that has informed my work and life ever since.
In improv, the actor must never say “no” or “but” as these words shut down the dialogue and the possibilities of what could come next. “Yes, and…” acknowledges and affirms what has just been said or done and throws down the welcome mat in preparation for any topic or idea that may be interested and ready to appear next. It is used to keep the story going. It declares that the first thing that was said was true AND that there is more to come.
I use and teach this phrase in my work training and supporting coaches, teachers, and tutors, as a parent, and in my daily relationships. Two years ago, my dear Samantha died unexpectedly. Infusing this powerful phrase into my lexicon and thinking has been a way to keep her with me and to continue the work that she did in her short time on this earth.
And so, it seemed that as I started to write about the other side of the story, the side of caregiving, parenting, and all of the other hard labors of love that many do but few speak of, that my wise friend’s phrase would be the guiding statement for me and for others.
Yes, it is a privilege to be a caregiver and it is really challenging.
However, as I began to write, a new phrase began to emerge, peppering my essays:
So often did this phrase appear as I wrote that I decided to think about what my typing fingers were trying to say to me. I studied these two phrases to determine what, if anything was different about them, and which would serve me better in my current work. If you’re interested, my thinking is below:
What I came to realize is that even though both phrases highlight the truth and validity of the first statement, only “and yet…” signals to the listener/reader that something contradictory, perhaps even surprising is coming next.
This is exactly what I hope to give readers permission to do through my work. I hope that my writing, stories, anecdotes, poems, and unapologetic declarations of things that are often left unsaid are invitations to other caregivers/parents/anyone doing hard things to not only say the things that we are used to saying and that others are used to hearing, such as:
“Parenting is so rewarding…”
“Being a caregiver is such a labor of love…”
but also, to use one little phrase to signal to the listener, to the world, that there is more to the story, something that may even surprise them.
“…it can feel all-consuming and exhausting.”
“…I feel overdrawn and pulled in a million directions.”
In doing so, I hope and believe that caregivers and the like can set free even a bit of the burden that they carry. Releasing that piece from our shoulders, our minds, and our hearts will likely have a multitude of effects. Doing so will perhaps provide the opportunity for others to pick that burden up and carry it on our behalf for a bit. It may model for others that they can say their own, “and yet…”s.
Will the effects all be positive? Likely not. And yet they will be sincere and freeing and possibly transformative for the speaker and the listener alike.
The writing I am going to share is not all lovely, heart-warming, and teeming with gratitude. There is plenty of that out there, including years of blog and Facebook posts written by yours truly. Instead here I hope to shine light on the other side of the story, the side that shows just how hard caregiving is, the negative space, and digs deeper into wonderings around why we are hesitant to say so.
Whether you are a fellow caregiver, parent, or person doing another hard thing or you know and love one of these brave folks, I hope there will be something here that resonates with you.
By the way, there’s one other thing about those two phrases:
“Yes, and…” happens as a response in conversation with at least one other person, whereas “And yet…” can be used in a monologue or in writing, for example, a blog post. That being said, my hope is that this space becomes much more than a spot for running commentary a la Allison, but instead can be a community in which conversations and statements of blatant and perhaps vulnerable honesty can be shared, recognized, and appreciated. Join me.