It’s late Sunday morning, and my daughter Zoey and I are dropping my father off at the airport. We have been lucky enough to enjoy two weekends with him this past month, so we feel downright spoiled, but our fun has come to and end: it’s finally time for him to head back home.
Zoey hops out of the car and steps into my dad’s arms. When he picks her up, Zoey’s arms and legs wrap around him so easily and so quickly, it’s almost as if this hug of hers is a muscle memory, the childhood equivalent of riding a bike or typing on a keyboard.
I stand next to the car watching Zoey, at her tiny head nestled gently against his shoulder. She looks at me, her face almost expressionless, and then she leans back and gives him a tiny kiss. After they exchange I love you’s, he sets Zoey down and gives me a hug. We stand shoulder to shoulder, and as we watch Zoey climb back into the car, my dad puts his arm around me, gives me a little squeeze, and says, “You’re doing just fine.” The slight nod of my head agrees with him.
* * *
Minutes later, with our hands waving our final goodbyes, Zoey and I begin to drive away. I turn off the radio and start talking to her, asking her what she wants to do the rest of the day. But my question hangs suspended in the space between us: there is no answer from the backseat.
“Zoey?” I ask. I try to catch her eye in the rearview mirror, but I can’t see her. “What’s up? Is everything okay back there?”
I make sure that there are no cars around me, and I quickly look back at Zoey. The brief snapshot I see of her takes my breath away: Her palm—pressed against the window; her fingers—splayed open wide; the sun—streaming in, revealing the tiny glint of a tear precariously perched in the corner of her sky-blue eye.
“Peanut…,” I whisper. I check the road before glancing back at her again. Zoey turns her head and when her gaze catches mine, her little body starts shaking and alligator tears quickly begin rolling down her sweet, sun-kissed cheeks.
“Oh, honey,” I breathe. My free hand reaches back, searching for hers, and when her little fingers find mine, she finally chokes out a few words:
“I’m so sad…”
* * *
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
– Brené Brown
Over the past year, I’ve spent quite a bit of time hanging out with vulnerability, that sometimes scary, sneaky little state of being: there have been times—just like Zoey—that I’ve been terribly sad. There have been times when I’ve felt like all my vulnerabilities have been laid out before me, my emotions not sure what to make of them. There have been times where I’ve been on my knees, with my hands pressed against my face, fumbling to catch my own adult-sized alligator tears.
But painful things are often disguised as learning opportunities, aren’t they? This year has given me the chance to let these feelings teach me something. I’ve learned it’s okay to feel angry or scared or hurt. I’ve learned it’s okay to feel sad or lonely or confused.
I’ve learned it’s okay to simply feel.
As children, we do this easily. We wear our hearts on our sleeves, let our tears fall freely, and openly share how we’re feeling about something. But oftentimes, somewhere along the way, we start bottling our emotions up, feeling bad about how we feel, and worrying that if we express those feelings—that if we speak up—-there may be repercussions—and that’s not okay. It’s crucial to remember that owning our vulnerabilities allows us to be ourselves.
It’s taken a while, but I’ve come to accept and acknowledge my own vulnerabilities, and I’ve also learned how important it is to let other people be vulnerable with me. Because how can I acknowledge the feelings of others if I’m not acknowledging my own?
* * *
“I’m so sad…”
Still holding her hand, I keep driving until I come upon the next exit. We end up in a sea of car rental places, and I turn into the first parking lot I see and into the first empty space I can find.
And then, all at once: I’m putting the car in park, and I’m hearing Zoey unclick her seatbelt; I’m turning around and holding out my hands, and she’s climbing over the console and into my lap; I’m folding my arms around her, and I’m feeling the wetness of Zoey’s face against my chest as she sobs into my shirt.
If I want to teach Zoey that it’s okay to be vulnerable—something she already knows how to do pretty well and something I never want her to forget—I need to keep showing her that I also know how to acknowledge and understand my insecurities and feelings, no matter how scary they may be. Because, as Brené so eloquently states, being brave with our feelings puts us on the path toward discovering the infinite power of our own light.
So as the outside world comes and goes around us, as we sit, wrapped up in one another, as I gently rock her to a steady song of the whispered words I keep trying to fit into the quiet gaps of her tears: I know, It’s okay, I’m here—I, too, begin to cry, finally letting my own truth be known:
“I’m sad, too.”
And then, slowly but surely, as warmth and light begins to emanate from the shining brightness we’ve created in this shared, small space, our tears begin to dry. We know we will be okay, because we will remember: We are brave. We are powerful. We are infinite. We are us.
So today, remember: It’s okay to be vulnerable.
This post originally appeared on The Nostalgia Diaries.
Corey is a marketing professional, writer, graphic designer, and, most importantly, mom to her amazing daughter, Zoey. Wanting to find her way back to herself after her divorce last year, she decided to pursue her lifelong passion of writing. This pursuit manifested itself in the creation of a blog called The Nostalgia Diaries, where her goal is to simplify, enhance, and engage people’s lives by helping them focus on the most important things: remembering, appreciating, believing, and becoming. Since the creation of her blog, Corey’s writing has been featured on SheKnows, Red Tricycle, and Chief Gratitude Officer. She’s determined to spend the rest of her days living creatively and colorfully, all the while drinking cinnamon green tea, listening to good music, and soaking up as much sunshine as she can.