Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” Dr. Brene Brown
Working with children always leaves some room for one to be vulnerable. This week, I came in to our kindergarten/first grade multi-age classroom with a young man who would be taking our students on an outdoor hike later in the week. As we were trying to find a spot to sit down, a kindergarten girl came up to us all big and brown eyed, pointed her finger and said, “That’s your son.” Uh, no. He is 26 and I am…..well, no one needs to know that. “Could I really be your mom?”,
I ask the young man. ” Uh”, he says. He knows there is no way he is going to answer that question and come out alive. “Well, I guess I could be if I were 18 when I had you. ” I mumble. Uh, still a bad move on my part. Now he knows my age. Shoot! Shoot! Shoot! I hate being vulnerable.
Awkward moment number 1 lasts forever and collides into awkward moment number 2. A child from way across the room rushes over and says, “You’re married.” Uh, no…that is just weird. Go away little boy. However, I actually just say, “no, he is not my husband”. But like a bad infomercial, there is more to come as awkward moment number 3 slams right into the back of awkward moments 1 and 2. Young man (who I can’t even look at any more) and I find a seat in the classroom behind the students as the teacher explains who our guest is. I was listening intently (being a excellent role model), when another boy , looked at me all big and blue eyed and said, “Your hair is gray!” Again, what is up with that stupid finger point? Also, why does young man have to hear all of this, as well as, half the class? The teacher tries to rescue the moment and says, “that wasn’t very nice, that was a bucket dipping comment”. Only to have another boy defend the first boy’s response (this time for the whole class to hear), “no it wasn’t (a bucket dipping comment), she does have gray hair”. Okay, first of all I thought my gray was underneath the blonde highlights, but apparently it is time for another, er, uh, touch up. Secondly, I hate being vulnerable. I tell the teacher another comment from anyone under the age of 7 and I’m outta there.
Waiting today for news from Pamela, I feel vulnerable. I also know her sense of vulnerability must be off the charts. I have been lambasted with that feeling since she told me she had cancer. I really don’t like feeling vulnerable and I hate that she has cancer. Personally, I work extremely hard to avoid vulnerability and boy do I understand why. Webster defines vulnerability as “easily hurt or harmed physically, mentally, or emotionally: open to attack harm or damage”.
Based on Webster’s definition, no wonder I hate feeling vulnerable. No wonder we all hate feeling vulnerable. We control vulnerability’s presence and run screaming in the opposite direction. We will do most anything to keep from feeling vulnerable. We stay really busy, we eat too much, and we eat too little. We drink, we take medicine, we build emotional and physical fences to keep people out, we make sure we say the right things, drive the right car, and purchase the perfect whatever. We make sure to put people in their place. We make sure we are “right” and others are “wrong”. We look for flaws and shun differences instead of embracing what makes us all human and full of imperfections. We make sure our children are the “perfect” reflection of us and we allow for no mistakes from ourselves, others, or our youngest citizens. We fix or conceal “imperfect” parts of our bodies (or hair) that someone decided was ugly or not good enough. We constantly keep trying to do and be anything, but vulnerable.
She states that “The problem is (when we numb vulnerability) is that you can not selectively numb emotion. You can’t say, here’s the bad stuff. Here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment. I don’t want to feel these. I’m going to have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing our other emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those (hard feelings), we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable, so we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. ”
However, Dr. Brown suggests an alternative; ” to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there is no guarantee. To practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror. To be able to stop catastrophizing what might happen, say instead, I’m just so grateful because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive. And probably the most important, is to believe we are enough. Because when we work from a place, that says, I’m enough, then we stop screaming and start listening. We’re kinder and gentler to people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves”.