“When life gives you lemons… make lemonade!!”
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” is a proverbial phrase used to encourage optimism and a positive can-do attitude in the face of adversity or misfortune. Lemons suggest sourness or difficulty in life, while lemonade is a sweet drink.
What if it’s a really nasty, sour, and disgusting lemon? What if it’s — GASP! — not organic?
What if the lemon was not “given” to you, but pelted at you at full speed, with no warning?
What if you don’t even like lemonade?
What if you do like lemonade, but you’re just really tired and YOU DON’T WANT ANY FREAKING LEMONADE RIGHT NOW, THANK YOU VERY MUCH!?!
I get the sentiment and all … lemons are sour and overwhelming if we just bite into them, but if we slice them open, massage and juice them, and then add a little glucose and hydration, we can make a bitter experience into a sweet one.
I’m all for seeing the good, and I also think both water and sugar can solve many problems… but you know what??
YOU DON’T HAVE TO MAKE THE FREAKING LEMONADE!
You don’t have to turn something bad into something good.
When the bad happens, the last thing we may want to do is make lemonade.
It’s true that profound transformations often emerge from deep suffering … but it’s also true that profound transformations take a long time.
And I guess that’s why I’m picking on this aphorism today: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” is too easy. It means there’s ALWAYS a silver lining, and there’s an immediate, patently obvious thing to do with what has been given to you.
But life is not simple and obvious.
Sometimes it’s just bad, and complicated, and murky, and we have NO idea what to do.
At that point, we just need to sit with the bad.
One of my favorite “mommy mantras” is “Sit with the suck.”
Some parts of parenting (and work and life, etc.) just suck.
When we think we have to make lemonade and sweetness out of the suck, we just end up feeling more miserable.
What if we just sit with the suck?
And sometimes things don’t just suck — they’re plain shitty and painful and miserable. No amount of squeezing and straining them into a different form is going to help.
So we sit.
But sitting with the suck is not the same as wallowing in the suck.
Sitting with the suck means life gives you lemons, and you just decide you’re going to BE WITH the lemons.
You’re not going to yell at them or kick them or throw them at someone.
Or, actually, you might yell at them and get really mad at ALL THE LEMONS.
But the anger or frustration or sadness or righteous indignation or despair you feel about the lemons won’t be constant. It will ebb and flow and change. You’ll know this because you’re sitting with the lemons.
It might take just a few minutes of sitting with the lemons.
It might take a few months (lemons have a REALLY LONG shelf life).
But it’s not the lemon’s fault.
You’re just going to STAY with your hurt and your pain, because the only way out is through.
And then one day you might think, “I suppose I could try to make lemonade…”
Or perhaps you’ll think, “I do need just a little bit of lemon zest for this dinner recipe…”
Or you might just say, “This kitchen stinks — I’m just going to grind up the lemons in the garbage disposal…”
There are lots of uses for lemons.
You don’t have to make lemonade.
When it’s bad, you don’t have to be all heroic and turn the bad into something good.
I mean, you can if you want to. If you’re ready, and you know the recipe, go ahead and make it.
But if you need to feel the bad, then feel the bad. Reach out and talk to people about the bad. There are lots of us out there who are familiar with citric suffering.
And don’t forget the oft-forgotten option between good and bad, acid and base — neutral.
You can be neutral about lemons, too.
So, with all due apologies to the lemon, lemonade, and truism industries, I think we’ve maxed out this maxim.
The next time life gives you lemons, just tell yourself that as far as adages go, this one’s, well . . . , a lemon.