We have two kids in school this fall, which means these past couple of months have been full of a lot of adjustment and new experiences. Watching our children’s reactions to new people and environments has sparked some interesting parenting conversations for Ryan and I. It has taught us a few new steps in our ‘dance of parenthood.’ Our first two children bend towards the shy observer type, at least in public. Our youngest, at two, doesn’t know a stranger. We have enjoyed watching them process their different reactions and interactions with “school” and all the dynamics it entails.
With all the newness, we have spent a month talking with our kids about how we can do hard things. We have talked about what courage is and what we need it for. And we have talked about how Fear and what it is and what we need it for. We have talked about courage and fear as though they are persons (thanks Elizabeth Gilbert!) and that we can speak to Fear and thank it for looking out for us, but when we are interested in trying something new, like school or making new friends, we can tell Fear it can go because we are holding hands with Courage and we are okay to take this risk. We have talked about courage showing up in different ways, sometimes loud and sometimes quietly.
Our daughter, Saedy’s interest in friendship is budding. Her keen observation skills have helped her be on the lookout for friends this fall. Recently she informed us of this. There’s a kindergarten girl that seemed really cool to her, “I like her hair, and her outfits, and she looks friendly.” Saedy wanted to be this girl’s friend. She didn’t know her name, she didn’t know how to become her friend, but she knew that she wanted to try. So she asked for help. Can we help her make this friend? Next time I teach at her school, can I go with her and support her as she takes a risk? A great idea, but with no teaching dates booked for the coming week, we asked Saedy who would be another source of support. Saedy talked with her teacher and asked, “Would you help me face my fear today?” And of course, her teacher couldn’t refuse. Saedy came home beaming and totally emotional, because she had made two new friends; the girl that she wanted to talk to, and that girl’s friend.
And that is courage. Knowing what she wants, or what is right, and going for it, even when fear is telling her to hide or run the other way. It is easy to push down desires. To stuff her wants way down deep out of fear that she’ll fall flat on her face in failure. There is a vulnerability to following our hearts and chasing our dreams. For some of us it is easier to remain aloof than to get in there and open ourselves up to the possibilities. Saedy made herself vulnerable in front of a girl she didn’t know, and that girl’s friend, and her teacher. And she made herself vulnerable talking about her desires with us. She engaged life, and she took a risk and connected with another person. And, she knew that it was more than she could do on her own and had the courage to ask for help!
We have two hopes in this regard for our girl. The first is that no matter how many of those conversations go well, she will never lose the butterflies, the sense of possibility that accompanies a new encounter or endeavour. There are few forces on earth more powerful than human relationship and few things more exhilarating than starting a new pursuit.
The second is that no matter how many of those conversations go poorly, we hope she will never lose the desire to keep trying. To keep being brave. To take risks and make herself vulnerable. Because that is what courage is.