“Suddenly our kids are made of porcelain?”, he mutters under his breath. Sounded like a question, felt like a statement. It’s ME that’s made of porcelain, I wanted to fire back! I felt the anxiety rush through me, like electricity surging through my veins. My husband’s comment was not directed at me, yet it felt very personal. Old issues rushed to the surface. Not just because we were talking about our kids, and because I do this thing (maybe all mothers do), where he says something about one of the kids, and I get defensive. Like I am doing something wrong. More than once, since we became parents 7 years ago, he has said to me, “I’m not blaming you. Why do you take it so personally?” Oh where do I begin? I lack ambivalence. I am void of it. I care too much. I feel too deeply. My membrane is too permeable. I take things personally.
My childhood: I was well loved, but learned that I was most lovable when I was quiet, not bold, or silly. I learned to keep my voice down. I lived in a relatively quiet house (most of the time). I was overly attuned to my mother’s sadness, and my father’s pain, while they both tried very hard to mask this. I knew when there was tension. I knew when there was struggle. I wanted to please, and ease, and so I learned to push down the energy bubbling within me. I also learned to take on their worries, and struggles as though they were my own. No one asked me to do this. They would never have wanted me to feel for them. In hindsight, maybe if they’d been a bit better at feeling for themselves, instead of hiding, I would not have taken on the task. Who knows? What I do know, is that the attunement to others was adaptive- a function of living in a somewhat chaotic environment that was outwardly very quiet. Kind of like me…
And so my kids are sensitive (each in their own way). Maybe I’ve taught it to them. Maybe I’ve passed it down in their genetic make-up. Likely both. This piece of me, which I share with them, I have spent my life trying to disown. Why? Because I stood out. My inner world always seemed vastly more complicated than that of my peers. Over thinking, and over feeling… Not easy when you’re a kid. Hell not easy, when you’re an adult. The one wish I had when I was pregnant (aside from healthy baby), was please don’t let him or her be sensitive like me. It breaks my heart now to type these words. It brings me to tears… To have felt this way about myself, now seeing this shining quality in my girls’ hearts and knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that this bit of them may well be their greatest strength. So hard to believe that as recently as 7 years ago, I still saw this part of me as a character flaw. Now I find myself, believe it or not, almost protective of this part of my girls. Of course I don’t want them to struggle as I did. But the struggle was never really with “being sensitive”. It was with thinking that there was something wrong with me because I was. I don’t ever want them to feel less than for feeling deeply. My hope is that they will learn early to see the gift of vulnerability- the only door to connection, and that they will understand that strength and openness are not mutually exclusive.
Porcelain… This seemingly benign word stung as it reached my ears because of all that it implied. It triggered old issues. We don’t want them to be sensitive. Sensitive is bad. It’s taken me nearly 40 years to realize that sensitive does not mean weak. While soft-hearted, I am also a fierce, confident, “watch-out world, here I come me”. The work has been balancing all of this, with my tender heart, and stepping into who I am with all of its contradictions, unapologetically.
May my children see their tenderness as a gift, and not as something that holds them back. What holds us back is seeing only the challenges, instead of the gifts, even our challenges bring. I would not be who I am today, love the way that I love, or do what I do, if it weren’t for seeing the “good” in being sensitive. Porcelain… Maybe, but underneath that veneer, lies the heart of a lion.
“When you are who you should be, then you will set the world on fire.”
-St. Catherine of Siena
A special word here to my mom and dad, whose tender hearts helped shape my own, and to my grandmother, Granny Mary, aka Grandma Dynamite. Thank you for reminding me that you see that lion, and encouraging me to embrace all of the bits we inherit, for they make up who we are.