Sometimes it doesn’t get easier

Sometimes it doesn’t get easier

A long story about a submarine, and my to-do list, and how one is messing with the way I see the other.

Last week my husband and I took our oldest child to Chicago for a few days, just the three of us. The agenda looked somewhat different than it does when it’s just Will and me, or the whole family of six.

Our very first stop on the way into the city was the Museum of Science and Industry, a place only I had been to before, and not since I was a kid.

When you travel with your family you end up visiting places and exhibits you wouldn’t have chosen on your own, and that is how I ended up on a tour of the U-505 submarine, the first WWII U-boat captured by the U.S. Navy during the war, in June 1944. If the Germans knew their sub had been captured, they would know that their codes had been compromised—and so the capture was classified, the German crew was interred in a Louisiana POW camp, and the sub was secretly taken apart and studied, top to bottom, to extract valuable information to assist the Allied war effort.

That’s the background. I want to pick up with what happened after the war.

When the war was over, the Navy no longer needed the sub, and it was very nearly used for target practice. But the commander who captured the U-505 was a Chicago native, and he successfully petitioned his hometown’s Museum of Science and Industry to assume ownership and display the submarine. The museum raised a quarter of a million dollars, and in 1954, the sub was moved from its resting place in Bermuda to the lakefront museum in Chicago.

(This move was a BIG DEAL, and the footage is really cool. The hardest part of the journey: moving the massive sub the paltry 800 feet from the lake to the museum lawn. As the museum likes to point out, the sub is as long as a city block, and weighs three times the Statue of Liberty.)

Later that year, the sub was unveiled to the public, as an open-air war memorial. The sub stayed there for the next 50 years, exposed to the elements. 50 blistering summers, 50 infamous Chicago winters, always lakeside exposure. U-boats are tough, but they’re not made to sustain those elements.

By the turn of the century, the museum could see that the sub would literally fall apart. And so they planned an audacious project: a $35 million plan to move and restore the sub and create a new exhibit, indoors and underground. A top line item: Undoing 50 years of damage from 50 years of Chicago weather. Removing the thick coating of 50 years of rust from the hulk of the boat.

I was struck by the sheer logistics of moving a 700-ton sub from Bermuda to a Chicago basement. Will was struck by the 50 years of rust. Well, that and the $35 million dollars. When the tour guide dropped the stats on just how one goes about removing 50 Chicago winters’ worth of damage from the hulk of an old submarine, he leaned in and said, “Remember that later—it doesn’t get easier.” I didn’t get it at first, and my eyes probably reflected something like, what does my life have to do with a u-boat?

He explained more later, post-tour, and I get it now. I’ve been thinking about it all the time.

We put things off because we think it will be easier later, whatever it is. We’ll have more cash to fix the roof leak, or more motivation to move the 401k, or more energy to find a math tutor, or more inclination to finally kick that habit.

But over time, some things—maybe most things—don’t get easier. In fact, they often get harder—because the tiny leak turns into something legitimately scary, or we grow forgetful about the details for that 401k, or we slip even further behind in math (or our kid does), or the habit grows more entrenched. Or one more Chicago winter adds another layer of nasty rust to a certain submarine. We’re not actually giving ourselves a break by delaying. We’re making it harder on ourselves.

(Last fall, Will and I came THIS CLOSE to buying a gorgeous house with serious water damage that began with a tiny leak. When we looked at the house, there were gaping holes on two stories, and corresponding repair estimates in the five figures. It doesn’t get easier.)

Of course, there are good reasons to wait, sometimes. Money is an obvious one, and relevant for the U-505. It’s a reason I can relate to. It’s obvious you’re better off repairing the roof now, not later—but if you’re broke, you’re broke. Sometimes it makes sense to wait until you have more time—although for me, the needed time rarely materializes later. It doesn’t get easier.

Since we got back from Chicago, I’ve been coaching myself with these words, especially as I tackle the remnants of my summer to-do list, the items I’ve been putting off for months. Many months. I finally completed paperwork I’ve been meaning to finish for six (!!) months. I could have completed it in 5 minutes last winter, but because I was fuzzy on the details, it took me fifteen. Not a huge loss, but a loss all the same. It got harder.

It doesn’t get easier. And so we’re tending to a few minor (for now) repairs around the house that have been nagging us for a few months. I’m eyeing the Virginia creeper that’s about to climb out of reach and take over my trees before I pull it down, and the once-tiny sprigs of poison ivy in the bed that are suddenly not-so-tiny. These are small examples, because they’re not embarrassing ones, but I assure you I can think of some big ones, too—some situations I made harder on myself, and it’s my own fault, and that hurts.

Maybe tackle something that’s getting harder, and tell me about it in comments? I’d love to hear about the thing that didn’t get easier for you, and what you did about it (or still need to do about it). Did you have something actually get easier with time? That’s terrific; I’d love to hear about that as well. Can you motivate us to take action today? Share your favorite tips and mental tricks in comments.

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  1. Julie says:

    For me, the thing that immediately came to mind when I read this post is the fact that we waited until our son was 9 years old to have him tested for dyslexia. I kept thinking, “Oh, he’ll get it, he’ll be fine, he’s always been a little behind his peers.” I worried that I was over-reacting, that my concerns were somehow cosmically causing the problem. And, lo and behold–now we know that he has severe dyslexia, and he’s getting speech/reading therapy and beginning at the.very.beginning. It is so painful to watch and, while I am beating myself up about waiting so long to JUST DO SOMETHING about his reading problem, I am trying to store away all the lessons I’ve learned from this experience. 1. If you think there’s a problem–if it bothers you or is disrupting the lives of people that you love–GET AFTER IT, GIRL! 2. Don’t let other people (doctor, family members, other moms) talk you out of your gut feeling. You’ve got that Mama Instinct for a reason. 3. Celebrate the fact that you are DOING SOMETHING about it.

    Anyway, looks like there’s lots of us who totally get this post! I love that it was an enormous, aged submarine that led you to these “deep” thoughts, Anne!

    • Amy Bader says:

      Julie my 9-year-old son has dyslexia too. And even though we suspected in preschool and had some interventions in the early grades, he still will be moved to learning support this year to better meet his needs. So, I’m just saying, don’t beat yourself up too hard. Many kids with significant dyslexia don’t get identified or get help until 3rd or 4th grade, and still do well. Just read a lot, and keep advocating for your son. Best wishes!

  2. Akaleistar says:

    The submarine sounds awesome, and that piece of advice is priceless because a lot of things in life don’t get easier, especially when you keep putting it off.

  3. Vanessa says:

    I am an accomplished task finisher BUT there are times when there is an emotional block and I can’t seem to make any progress. I am never sure why that is. In the past few years I have just allowed some things to not get taken care of and I just keep an eye on them. It’s not that I even think it will get easier or go away, I just think, “I’m not ready yet.”

    • Cristin Morgan says:

      Vanessa, I totally feel you! I am a “get things done” kind of person too. So, when I can’t move forward on something, I’ve learned to give myself the time to figure it out, or just wait until that inner door opens to show me the path forward. I’ve spent quite a few years emotionally stuck on something, but since spring, I’ve been able to move forward on figuring it out, and that has been amazing!!! In my figuring out process, I am slowly making a plan to change this major stuck point in my life and I can see that, eventually, everything will be okay. So, to answer Anne’s inquiry, I think there will be times where you can’t move forward until it’s time to move forward, until the way forward is clear. And, that’s all kinds of okay.

  4. Jamie says:

    Your thoughts reminds me of something I read/heard from Gretchen Rubin about doing vs. putting things off. She said if it takes less than a minute, then do it right away. The mental energy that it sucks out of our day WORRYING about getting the thing done versus actually taking the few moments to DO THE THING really don’t compare at all. From putting dishes away to folding laundry to putting the bag of returns in the back of the car instead of the hallway….minutes to accomplish, freeing up all that mental space. Ahhhh…

  5. Barbara says:

    Damn. I was hoping it would. But, yeah. seems to ring true. I can overcome these things.

    Or sometimes, for now is okay, but does need to dealt with later.

  6. Trisha says:

    Well, I immediately think about my yard–the ivy that threatens to invade our neighbors! For example. But it’s true in more subtle ways as well. Repairs, monitoring a child’s progress in school, daily habits that seem trivial. And I also get stuck when I have to make a decision before I can get something done. It’s almost worse than not having the money or the time to get something done: not being decided on what, exactly, to do.

  7. Carrie Zier says:

    AWW! I love this! My grandfather was on one of the ships that captured this sub! My grandmother still tells the story of him coming home on leave and, crawling into bed with her that night, whispering to her that something big had happened, but he couldn’t tell her.

  8. I can relate to this post. I have put off writing for real for 20-plus years! I’ve had a long list of excuses, such as I have nothing worth saying; No one will read it; It’s all been written before; I’m not very creative; I have to take care of things at home–my son, the dishes, make dinner, etc., etc. Blech! Now I’m just sick and tired of being sick and tired of not writing. (Isn’t that what they say gets an addict moving toward recovery?) Recently I’ve had a few kicks in the butt to at least move in the right direction by Jorden Roper ( and my own circumstances, as well as this blog post! Thanks!

  9. ~Amy F.~ says:

    The first thing I thought of that doesn’t get easier is writing essays for university classes. Some of them are challenging, so I put off writing them until the day before they’re due, but it’s a lot harder to plan and write an essay when I have to handle all my projects tat are due that day. On top of that, it’s really hard to do my best writing when I’m counting down hours until the deadline. I’m going to keep this submarine analogy in mind from now on when I’m facing a tough essay!

    The second thing that came to mind is blogging. I’ve been planning to start a blog about literature for a little while now, but I’ve been putting off a lot of the prep work I know I have to do with the excuse that “I’ll get to it later”. I realize now that it’s not going to get any easier the longer I wait. I’ll still have a to-do list a mile long next month, and the month after, and I’ll still be intimidated by the idea of putting my thoughts out there for everyone to read. I’ll still struggle to develop my writing voice no matter when I start, and the longer I wait the less confident I’ll feel. This month, I’ve been choosing one task each day to complete that will move me closer toward launching my blog; this post encourages me to keep doing that every day.

    • Cindy May says:

      To Amy F – If it helps, I look forward to reading your thoughts on literature in your blog. I have a blog too, and the one thing I’ve learned about doing one is to do it for yourself and not to wait for a pat on the back from others since my readers (mostly friends and family) are shy about giving me feedback. Still, I guess I’m glad I have a blog since they seem to enjoy reading it. Good luck with it.

      • ~Amy F.~ says:

        Cindy, that’s a really good point! Realizing that I want to write for me, even if no one reads it or likes it, was one of the main things that made me decide to start my blog now. Even if I don’t reach a wider audience like I’d like to, the process of writing my thoughts will be good for me, and there’s value in that.

        You’re the second person (besides my mom, lol!) who has expressed interest in my blog. That is encouraging to me! I’d love to take a look at your blog, if you wouldn’t mind sending me a link! It’s inspiring to me to see how other people run their blogs and communicate what matters to them 🙂

  10. Lucy says:

    This hit me hard. I have lived my life avoiding hard things, and putting things off to get to them when I “have the time”. Working on it, getting things done now, but the mountain of things… This post is brilliant.

  11. Just spent the last two days deep-cleaning bathrooms. Ugh. I’ve been lazy all summer, only surface cleaning and barely keeping up with laundry and dishes. Well, as you can guess, the job was much harder than keeping them clean in the first place! And even though the bathrooms are the only clean places in my house right now, I feel relieved and a bit motivated to tackle the rest of the house before school starts.
    Thanks for a terrific post!

  12. Jenny says:

    This is 100% true. However, I find that it’s easier to know that it’s true than to actually take action and change. It’s funny. Some things I do tackle right away because there’s no sense in putting them off. Then other things…. I avoid because it won’t be pleasant, or it’s too hard (seemingly), or I don’t have time…

    This is a good lesson in why you should just do it. Thanks so much for sharing. I’m going to remember this story for sure.

  13. Mandolin says:

    Thank you so much for this post, Anne. You will probably laugh at this, but I have a slight leak in my kitchen roof (I think) and this has spurred me on to get it fixed before spots start showing up and the job is more than a slight patch. Why do we always put off things like this when they really are so much easier (and less painful!) to fix up front?

  14. Shana says:

    Accepting something painful DOES get easier with time…. but work stuff doesn’t. I love this article, thanks for taking the time to write it! But I struggle with always working, finishing and maintaining the normal while promising myself that I will get to the fun stuff SOMETIME. The stuff I really love to do, dream of accomplishing and am excited about. But look! The ironing needs done, the floor needs swept, the kitchen could be straightened… and then it is supper time! For me I have to be intentional about not doing every bit of work and do something I love. Strange, I agree…

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