When Vulnerable Meets Vulnerable

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Yesterday I cried at work. I guess for some people that’s not unusual, but I am often a person who shakes my feelings around, and it takes quite a bit to bring me to tears. Yesterday, it was FEAR. My initial fear was based on my primal need to protect a vulnerable person. My second wave brought out the selfish need to protect myself from negative repercussions. All things connect in three’s; I was crushed by the third hit: guilt.

Guilt is my partner in life. Guilt

I had tried so hard to be THE ONE; the person who was able to connect with the child whose edges are sharper that shark teeth; whose soul is more guarded than crown jewels; and most of all, whose emotions are rougher than the most powerful hurricanes. I persisted. I was winning them over until…

Boundaries were in place. The child was comfortable with the rules, and consequences of the art activity. Unfortunately, accidents happen, and fear prevailed. The child feared my reaction. I feared for the child’s safety. Thankfully, we were BOTH wrong in our assumed outcomes.

As I cleaned up the inevitable mess, I sobbed. The child had run from my class after the accident not because of injury, but from fear of me reacting like all the other adults in their life. Suddenly, I was no longer a safe person, but someone to be feared, someone to be hated, someone to run from. I was crushed.

I felt incredibly selfish. My first instinct was to ensure that the child was safe, free from cuts, or scrapes that could have resulted from the accident. My next thought was “How can I get this child to realize that I’m sincere in caring for them?”

Of course, there was also the part of me that was worried about the administrative repercussions of the accident, even though it was thankfully without injury.

After a colleague assured me that the student was safe, I found a friend to cover my group while I went to check on them. At first, the child would not even look at me.

I sat down on a chair meant for elves, and cried. I explained that my tears were not for the mess, or my own feelings, but out of relief that they were okay. I also admitted that I felt horrible knowing that the child was in that moment afraid of me because no adult had ever been able to get upset without causing harm to them.

It didn’t take long before the child came to me. We invested a long moment holding hands, staring at each other, and crying. I told the child that they were loved, and that no matter what, my classroom was going to be a safe place for them.

We talked about my mistake in choosing art supplies that were obviously too fragile. I explained that although they had previously joked about intentionally damaging the project, this was clearly an accident, which I understood, and could never be angry about. We talked about substitute materials, and alternative projects, which I put into place the very next day.

That moment, the two of us sobbing uncontrollably was more intense than many emotions that I’ve ever experienced at work. We connected that day. Vulnerable met vulnerable, and we were able to guide each other.

*Today, when the student and I pass each other in the halls, or on the soccer field, I’m always greeted with a smile. When they are having a rough day, I continue to be a safe spot, or a voice of reason when poor choices are being made.

Mostly, today, when I look into the seas of my classrooms, I realize that each and every student as their own recipe that makes them who they are, and I try, I try more than ever to reach them with the empathy, and compassion that they need. I strive to be the safe spot whenever possible because so many young people have too many people against them in life.

Sadly, I can’t always succeed.

*Note: This post was started over a year ago, but took a back burner while I found my words.

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