“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.
Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
– Brene Brown
I was about ready to do it. I was about ready to grab my keys, drag my kids into the car, and start down the maze of streets in our subdivision to find our mailman. My son had worked for a week to earn enough money for a Lego space shuttle set and, preemptively, we had decided to order the set from Amazon since it was infinitely cheaper and would be here on the day my son had all his money saved up.
But the mail dude was late. Like hours late. And while my son doesn’t tell time yet, he does know when something is late. Mail dude was seriously late.
So, I tried various distractions. We went out on the swings to sing and tell funny stories. We set up Amazon notifications on my phone so we would know the second it was delivered. I pulled out old toys he hadn’t seen in years to divert attention. We ate ice cream with sprinkles even. But nothing worked.
That’s when I got the idea to get in the car and find our mail fella. I reasoned that it would give my kids something else to do besides fight and scream in the house. I grabbed a piece of mail and my driver’s license and walked toward the garage. I was just about to make my grand announcement and jangle the keys when I stopped.
I can’t do this. This is wrong. They need this.
I silently set the keys down, took a big drink of water, and braced for another round of loud disappointment. And it came, sure enough. Then I realized the one thing I hadn’t done all day for my son was the thing I wanted most for myself.
I got down on my knees and called for him. He ran to me with more tears in his eyes. I opened my arms and he fell into them.
“Hey,” I said, “tell me about it. I know you’re sad and mad about this.”
After he choked out more tears for a minute, he wiped his face and said, “I wanted to be done with my Lego truck before Geeko gets home from work.” It was all he could do to gasp out the words between sobs. (Geeko is what the kids call daddy – another post for another day.)
“Oh, bud, I know this stinks so bad. Like a big bag of farts. I’m so sorry the plan we had didn’t work out. I’m sorry the mail is late today.” And we hugged and held on tight to each other.
Now I knew that my husband would not be home for almost three more hours. And I also knew that if he did get home before my son had finished his Lego set that he would play along and not look at it until it was finished. I knew there were a million solutions to my son’s problem. All day I had been offering ideas, diverting attention, and explaining how time works, but it meant nothing to him. What meant something was my presence. And listening. Being a witness to his pain.
He cried a little more, but to my surprise, after I held him for another minute, he hopped up, created some new game with his Magnatiles, and didn’t ask about the Legos again.
As I poured some water for afternoon tea, I took a few deep breaths and realized I was also disappointed. It was probably the reason I couldn’t fully engage my son initially. I was dealing with my own frustration and stress over a shit day that had revolved entirely around my son, a stupid Lego set, and a tardy mailman. All of these things, mind you, were completely out of my control, which also pissed me off.
We all experience this stuff. These stressors and disappointments, frustrations and losses, big and small. We would be fools to wish for them, but they are an inevitable element of life. My life has been one big battle against these hardships. Perhaps fighting them is a survival mechanism from the lower parts of our brains. We’re not made for pain and struggle, right?
I’m not so sure. As I have grown, as I have experienced life, as I have faced down countless disappointments and struggles, I have discovered something different is true. When we’re in the trenches, facts and figures about outcomes don’t help. Patronizing pats on the shoulder in an attempt to distract don’t help. Sadly, chocolate, movies, and new lip gloss doesn’t help. And raging against the pain in beast mode doesn’t typically help either (although there is definitely a time and a place for beast mode).
So a while ago I began taking a different approach.
I began embracing the disappointments. I began accepting the heartbreaks. I began welcoming the monsters of pain, frustration, and loss. And the biggest way I did this was by talking about them. With almost anyone who would listen. If someone didn’t want to hear it or wasn’t bearing witness, I just moved on. But in airing it, I have found kindred souls who are experiencing similar disappointments and questions and fears. And that connection point is where I have discovered a courage I didn’t know I had and the strength to get up and move forward.
I think at the end of the day what we’re searching for is not a pain-free life. You don’t have to listen to much music to notice that the occasional dissonant chord gives a song character and beauty, rise and interest. In the textile art I practice, it is the imperfections and snags, the tattered fabrics and rusted pieces that tell a deep story of endurance and hope. No, we’re not looking for easy perfection. Even those who think they are looking for ease have a gut feeling that when they get it they won’t be content. Ease never satisfies. Getting everything we want never fulfills.
What does quench our heart’s thirst is connection, belonging, and being seen.
Sit here beside me.
Witness my pain.
Bear with me.
This is enough.
My son’s Lego set came about thirty minutes after I sat beside him. And he got it put together long before my husband arrived home from work. I recuperated, too, after some more deep breaths and a cuppa tea. All’s well that ends well, yes. But I don’t disregard the struggle, I don’t shoo it away like a fat fly, I don’t just try to barely survive it anymore. I’m finding that when I surrender, welcome struggle, and invite him to tea, he teaches me more than ease ever could.
He teaches me what to give.
He teaches me what I need.
He teaches me love.