I am the wilderness
When I became a mom, a primal instinct to provide shelter to my children, from all of the hurt, vulnerability, and uncertainty that life presents, was born as well. Recently, I’ve been trying to reconcile my deeply held value of living fully with this immeasurable desire to shield my kids from the growing harshness of life.
When I think of the most meaningful moments of my life, I do not recall the easy, predictable ones. I remember those times when I was so lost in the intensity of the experience that time dissolved. Standing on a cliff in the Swiss Alps, with my heart racing, terror shaking my knees, and yelling “Yes, I’m ready!” as I run off the edge, my legs treading air as I’m launched into my first paragliding experience; or sitting with my 87-year-old grandmother as her breath rattles, and talking with her about death and dying and what, if anything, comes next; or the spontaneous decision to move to Vermont, where I didn’t know a single soul, to take a job I never expected to get.
While I cherish those moments, as my babies are growing up, this desire to shield them seemed to be growing larger than my passion for living fully. It’s worth noting that this shielding priority has grown slowly, as I made sure my babies drank enough milk to sustain them, as I cut bananas into tiny cubes and “baby-proofed” the house. It widened as I watched my daughter flip out of the crib and land miraculously unharmed, and squealing in delight, where I hadn’t yet thought to put a pillow. It thickened as I watched my son’s near miss with a tree as he learned to ride a bicycle.
Last September, I watched as my first born stepped onto the school bus. A newly-minted 5-year-old with a backpack too big for his tiny frame and clothes too clean and crisp. Tears shimmered at the edge of his eyes as he looked back at me and climbed the bus steps. I was tormented all day, wondering if he felt lonely or scared, only to see him return home on that same bus, dirty and beaming, as he shouted, “I was REALLY scared but I love Kindergarten!” That’s when it hit me: In this increasingly complex world, is it a shield kids really need?
I want my children to live with courage, to trust that hardship doesn’t equal failure, to know that fear can help us calibrate our next steps but should not bind us, to trust themselves most of all, and to know without question that they are worthy of love and belonging.
In a desperate attempt to mend my suddenly splintering priorities, I began looking for research studies focused on vulnerability. Author and researcher, Brene Brown talked about vulnerability as the most accurate measure of courage. In that moment, a switch was flipped, priorities were realigned, and I realized living fully was pulling ahead of the need to make a strong enough shield. So here I am journeying deeper into parenthood and becoming ever clearer that it is MY comfort with vulnerability that needs to be cultivated, maybe even re-planted, if I ever hope to see it bloom in my children.
As the universe seems ever ready to present a challenge where one is needed, I recently accepted a wholly unexpected invitation to sing with a few colleagues in front of the Middle School community at the holiday talent showcase. The whole idea felt extremely, EXTREMELY uncomfortable. In the days before the performance, my children watched me stumble through the words as I tried to wedge them into my already overcrowded brain. They heard me talk about feeling nervous and insecure about singing for a crowd. In the purest form of courage they told me, “It is OK to feel scared—it’s just a feeling—and singing is SO fun!” So with their words chiming in my brain, I stood up with a shaky voice and pounding heart and remembered what it feels like to be brave.