Earlier this week, the 11-month-old I nanny somehow cut her thumb badly. I have no idea what caused it and therefore was pretty shocked when I picked her up and found her hand covered in blood.
Of course I immediately assumed she needed stitches and was preparing to head to the emergency room while calling her mom and very seriously telling her what had happened. The mom (very calmly) asked me to first call her husband (who is conveniently a doctor) before leaving. I did so and as it turned out stitches were (thankfully) unnecessary and therefore a trip to the emergency room also unwarranted.
To say I was panicking would be an understatement. While I knew Sally would live, I was horrified at the damage that had been done under my watch and felt overwhelmingly guilty that the child who had done absolutely nothing wrong was hurt without rhyme or reason.
When Sally’s mom got home, calm and cheerful, I broke down in shaky tears and took a few minutes to recover.
Needless to say, I went home and had a beer that evening.
Any mom will tell you that these things happen. Accidents are often inevitable and children will get hurt. The weird thing is, this doesn’t change much as we get older. While we probably won’t crawl over something sharp anytime soon (although it can’t be ruled out), we still get hurt… it is inevitable.
The nature of living in an imperfect world is that you could do everything right your whole life, be the perfect person, and still get hurt.
Mean girls (or guys), unhealthy relationships, illness, death, broken families…at some point or another we come across a situation that doesn’t leave us unscathed, often it can be outside of our control. This breeds fear. Everything we feel is for a reason (whether we are conscious of it or not) and fear generally arises from experience…when we realize that we are vulnerable.
Before this week, I had few qualms about letting Sally crawl around the sun room while I watched sitting on the floor…when I went to work this morning I was hesitant to get her out of her crib, worried of another traumatic incident.
As adults, we often act on fear from past experiences. We have learned that we can get hurt so we avoid situations that remotely imitate a painful past. We want to be invulnerable and stay in our safe ‘crib.’
But if you’ve ever held a baby before, while they are physically adorable, there is also a deeper attraction there that is more subtle. Babies are completely reliant on us. Not to brag, but if there are no other adults around, Sally can’t do much without me. And in that way, she is vulnerable. I could decide to walk out at any moment and leave her without a way to feed herself or change herself or even move around much (Lauren, if you’re reading this, promise I won’t do that). But the fact is that part of what we love about children is their vulnerability…it is inviting and draws out compassion from us that is often left untapped by our peers.
We are so busy trying to cover up anything imperfect or wounded, that we have forgotten that vulnerability is attractive. It is a wonderful and essential part of our humanness.
I’m not saying you should spill your guts out on a first date or write a dramatic Facebook post, but I think we can learn a thing or two from Sally in that she still wants to get out of her crib after being hurt outside of it. And I love her for it.
Sally is not just super cute (she really is), she also relies on me, she is vulnerable, and I see that as a privilege and amazing responsibility. Getting close to others, we will find that they too are vulnerable (even if they do know how to walk and feed themselves), and that becomes our responsibility.
When we close ourselves off from others, we deny them the privilege of truly seeing us and reaching out to us in our imperfection. Just like Sally, sometimes things will happen or people will fail us, and that is painful. But just like Sally, we have the option to get out of the crib again and give people another chance (whether it’s the same person or someone else).
Despite my doubts, I did take Sally out of her crib today, and the cut on her thumb was still there…but she was okay. She was able to bring the same joy to my life that she always has and I was able to care for her as I did before. And I am a better person for it.
Next time you’re feeling a little insecure or worried, remember baby Sally and how endearing vulnerability truly is.