Seven a.m. – I throw open the curtains in my son’s room. Alessio, who is nearly 2, sits up in his bed and shouts, “Hello world!” Courage in his voice, happy expectation. A once-in-a-lifetime day.
I feel excited, slightly guilty, a little scared. It’s my first day back at work after 3 months of maternity leave, blissfully inundated with babies. Worse, I can’t seem to find my “professional” persona. Maybe she’s still asleep. Maybe I’ve lost her altogether. The adult world seems far off, and a little chaotic, as I put aside my fears and pick up my son.
“Yes, a beautiful day!” My voice sounds full of confidence, but it’s an act. I stop. Am I teaching my son to be falsely cheery, to hide things away under a smile? And is he teaching me that happiness is about attitude?
Then worry steps in, as if that’s my real job as a mother: WORRY all in caps – about every eventuality, which I tried to cover in my numerous spreadsheets papering the fridge, ensuring the house will run smoothly while I’m at work. Babies fed like clockwork, nutritional menus for the week, shopping lists, emergency phone numbers, and what else? I can’t remember.
Chaos Management 101. I try to let it go, shift gears into the professional adult me, the woman that people look to for answers, to questions other than those that I’ve been answering the past several months: Do you know where the pacifier is? Are we out of diapers? And where the bleep is the Mylicon!?
As my son and I eat breakfast together, I think of a recent TED Talk by Brene Brown, a research professor who has spent the last 10 years studying vulnerability. She says vulnerability is at the core of shame, fear and struggle for worthiness, but it is also the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging and love. She says people who feel worthy have the courage to be imperfect and feel vulnerable. A mother’s job is not to look at her child and say, “she’s perfect and my job is just to keep her perfect.” But rahter, our job is to say, “you are imperfect but you are worthy of love and belonging.”
In his high-chair, Alessio is performing a few experiments – messy ones, like measuring the intake of juice into his cereal bowl to make it overflow, figuring out textures by fingering his food and pulling it apart. He has no fear of failure or success. Just curiosity. About everything. The spoon is a tool, for spreading food all over his face. Mango today. And oatmeal. I watch his happy mess and smile, as I put on my makeup at the kitchen counter, and explain to him that mama is going to “work.” He remembers that word and frowns.
Alessio walks with me to the car and watches me drive down the street. My sister Marisa, aka Aunt Riri, is holding him. I keep waving until I can’t see Alessio anymore, and he does the same. I ache to leave him – so sweet, so plainly missing me, while I swallow a double-dollop of guilt. I actually want to go back to work. I have missed my old identity, recognition in the adult world. A professional. Wearing high heels and silk blouses instead of burp rags.
As I’m driving, I notice some spit up on my blouse. Badge of honor, I say. I remember more of Brene’s words: Fully embrace vulnerability. What makes you vulnerable also makes you beautiful.
I arrive at work a bit discombobulated, but glad to see everyone. Around the water cooler, co-workers catch me up on all the office stories. I’m laughing so hard my cheeks hurt. My stories are all about my kids. The return to the adult world feels strange, like I’ve got a very long umbilical cord attached to my other life as Mom.
There’s a bit of chaos when I get home. My kids (husband included) are vying for my attention and I wish I could stretch myself like Elastigirl from “The Incredibles” and give everybody exactly what they need. But I can’t.
I think: It’s okay to be imperfect and let things get under my skin. It’s okay to be this muddled, as I zone in on the kids and shift gears yet again that day. And with this gentle permission to be myself, no more, no less, I begin to relax and even enjoy the beautiful imperfections of life.
My vulnerable beauty is that I try to be perfect when perfection is unattainable. I tend to give too much of myself in attempting to be the best mother, professional, friend and wife. I am learning to accept my imperfections in the same way I do for those that I love, by finding the value in them.
What is your vulnerable beauty? I hope to hear from you!
Illustration by Rima Hawkes Graphic Design