Wednesday, July 1, 2015

What Children Teach Us About Vulnerability

There's a thing about hurting ourselves in little ways that often makes us want the attention of others. As adults, we will exclaim over small hurts and give them much more focus than they need. Knowing they are trivial seems to almost make them safe to examine and show off. When we are really hurt, though, when something cuts deep- we tend to hide it rather than show it. We find our shells of safety- whatever they might be- and climb in to them. I'm not sure if it's an act of pride or survival (it's likely a little bit of many different things) that causes this almost instinctual reaction, but we will push down the hurt. We swallow it and move forward with our eyes focused on the goal of forgetting, of acting as if nothing has happened.

Typically, these kinds of cuts aren't physical. They are not injuries that will heal before our very own eyes as time goes on but instead they are deep emotional cuts. They, too, will heal over time but not in any way that we will see. Often we will be going through our day and a something will happen to make us remember the injury- our incredibly complex brain will force the memory into the forefront of itself and we will realize, almost suddenly, that it doesn't hurt in the way it once did. Maybe it's a song that reminds us of a moment we'd rather not dwell on or the face of someone we thought we'd managed to forget. Perhaps it's something ridiculously small, like the smell of fresh baked bread or an inexplicable wave of nostalgia. Whatever it is, it brings to our attention the hurt and how we've moved past it. How we've moved forward without even realizing it. We've healed.

We talk a lot at Tumbleweeds about the amazing perseverance of children. How they can understand the complex world of adults and start to navigate it from the moment they are born. They begin to understand how to let us know they are hungry versus tired. They start to understand that there are certain things that are really important to mom and different things that are really important to grandma or dad. They can tell when your heart isn't in the words. They act out when they can tell you are feeling vulnerable, not because they are preying on your weakness but because that weakness causes worry and fear in their own little souls. The acting out isn't really "acting out"- it's their own way of processing emotions that they are still learning to understand- emotions that we are still learning to understand.

In short, they are emotional cuts. Children display more than anything how our attitude, our mood, our actions affect those around us. It's true for adults, too, of course, but it isn't as clear how you affect other adults as it is with children. My time working with children has caused me to become even more self-reflective than I already was. I've learned just how true it is that smiling when you greet someone can change their entire day. I've seen firsthand how a welcoming or patient moment can completely change the outcome of a situation. I've learned how to hold my tongue and listen when my head is racing with thoughts- because what the person I'm talking to is saying is important to them, too! I've noticed more. I've seen more. I've experienced more... all because of what children have taught me.

It is easy to get caught up in ourselves and be selfish not simply because it's the human condition but rather because we are all we know for certain. We can count on being able to define what we need, what we think, what we care about. Those around us seem more like a distant puzzle and figuring them out can be, quite frankly, extremely frustrating. Children have taught me, though, that if you are quiet and you really, really look outside of yourself... then even the toughest puzzle can be figured out. We can remember that we aren't the only ones who might be feeling those deep emotional cuts that take so long to heal. We can be okay with sitting in that hurt, with letting it take over.

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