As a child, I loved the last day of the primary school term when you got to take board games into class. I took Mousetrap. I loved Mousetrap. You rolled the dice, you moved your mice and built an exotic plastic trap made of buckets, old drainpipes, a bath and some broken old steps. You hoped you’d be the one to turn the crank handle and – bang – someone else’s little plastic mouse would be caught in the trap.
Other people brought other games. One of my absolute favourite games that someone else brought in was Buckaroo. You had to put bits and pieces on a mule and hope it wasn’t your go when it decided to kick everything off. It was quite tense as you carefully placed the bucket, the pick or the rope onto the side of the plastic animal and then – boom – off it all came and scattered all the bits across the table and classroom floor.
You never knew which bit would make the mule kick off. You just knew that one bit would. It might not be the heaviest thing. It might be the tiniest piece of equipment. But there was an awful inevitability that it would eventually have had enough and throw everything off.
Over the past few months I’ve talked a lot about what I’ve started calling the Buckaroo Principle. AA Milne once said in his Winnie-The-Pooh books, ‘You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.’ We don’t know how brave we are or how resilient until we’re really tested beyond what we know or have previously experienced. But we aren’t bombproof. We are never bombproof. The trouble is that – as with Buckaroo – we really don’t know what will make the mule kick off. We just know it will.
It might be the big thing. It more likely won’t be. But all the stresses that you’re dealing with build up and build up until finally it’s like the equivalent of a tiny water bottle is put on to the mule and – boom – everything scatters, leaving you to pick up the pieces spread far and wide. Sometimes that will leave you with a wry apologetic grin as you pick up the bits that have fallen into a friend’s mug of tea. Other times it will leave you weeping because you accidentally trod on the plastic pickaxe in your bare feet.
One of the things I’ve learned over the last few months is that pretending everything is all right is like pretending the Buckaroo mule will take everything that’s put upon it. It’s not going to end well.
As a man called Paul once said to a church in Corinth two thousand years ago : ‘If you think you’re standing firm, be careful you don’t fall.’
Admitting you can’t cope, admitting that some days you’ve had enough of being a grown up, admitting that you’d like to scream at someone is not a sign of weakness, but a realistic statement of where you are. And it’s fine to be honest. It really is. Be honest with yourself. Be honest with those you love and trust.
You may find out that they already knew. You may find they were worried for you. But what you will definitely find is that they’ll be the ones on their hands and knees beside you on the floor helping search and pick up all the pieces to put them back where they belong.