I was fairly certain I was sending him into the belly of the beast. The potential for God-knows-what: infectious disease, stolen shoes, a common bathroom, irrational behavior. My mind churned with all the possible scenarios of what could happen to my son. What kind of mother was I to leave him at this place?
Before I share where I left my one-and-only offspring, let me preface this with –– three-year-olds are crazy. They’re unpredictable, gross, messy, loud, egocentric, and they have the potential to simply forget how to use a toilet at any moment. It’s like living in a perpetual frat house minus the alcohol. Nobody wins.
Earlier in the week, I dropped my three-year-old off at his first day of preschool. Please note: it’s an amazing preschool despite my depiction of toddlers and phobia of small children in large numbers.
Here’s the thing. Even if three-year-olds are akin to little raccoons, I, like all the parents that day, love my person with such ferocity and depth there are no words.
So when that vulnerable, little person I love more than life itself was turned over to the unknown, I panicked.
Whether or not you have kids, we’ve all had the experience of wanting to protect the most tender parts of our lives.
Insert the most vulnerable part of your soul in lieu of my child –– for the purposes of this post. These parts can be the aspects of you that don’t want to fail, that don’t want to be rejected or made fun of, the parts of you that want acceptance and love for who you are even in your darkest moments, the parts of you that know your life is meant for something significant but you’re not sure you’ll ever accomplish it.
Each one of us has a metaphorical toddler that’s chomping at the bit to grow into itself, to learn and experience all there is to learn and experience, and, like a young life, it’s vulnerable, innocent, and inexperienced. We also have parts of ourselves that want to fiercely protect that tender little spark. And those parental-type parts can be just as crazy as the toddlers…
On the first day of preschool I could have taken one of many routes:
1. Forget about the whole thing and stay home – avoid the situation entirely.
2. Make it to school, panic, and leave with child in tow. The bail out option – almost, but not quite.
3. Make it to school, panic, but proceed to go in, ask for help, leave child, and cry or feel scared when needed. The feel-and-deal-with-it approach.
4. Pretend nothing was happening and chug down three bottles of wine. The repression option.
5. Freak out and misdirect all my fear into anger about the limited number of parking spaces and the crappy drivers. The art of transference.
Now, I want you to think about the last time you were getting ready to send that vulnerable part of yourself into the world: starting a new career that you were passionate about, learning a new skill, being truly honest with a friend, speaking up about your beliefs, submitting your writing, artwork, or some other passion into the world.
Look through the list of five reactions above.
Which one is your default?
Are you letting the vulnerable part of you grow?
What parts of you have you kept home so-to-speak?
When you recognize what behavior is running the show, you now have a choice in how you continue forward––whether or not you send that tender part of your soul out into the world in a supportive way.
I like to believe that we all are trying the best we can, with the tools we have, at any given moment. When we avoid, repress, transfer, or bailout, it’s done with good intentions, a deep love, and fierce protection for what that vulnerable part might be subjected to.
But, if we never show up, risk vulnerability, hold a safe space, and model healthy coping skills, that tender part of us will never make it out into the world.
So, this week, I have a handy supply of kleenex. I have no control over how others will treat my kiddo, what diseases he could bring home, or if he’ll return with his shoes.
But, I do know, I’ve got to let him go. And that I’ll hold the space of unconditional love where he, hopefully, feels safe and can always return––before heading back out.
Here’s to all of you and your tender souls. May you share them with the world in big ways.
Inspire each other. In the comments, test out your inner toddler (and inner parent). Share a time when you put a vulnerable part of yourself out in the world and how it turned out: