Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.” – Rumi

The other day my 6-year-old was uncharacteristically quiet so I asked her what she was thinking about. She said, “I’m counting the number of times I’ve had a substitute.” Given that she only attended in-person Kindergarten for about 10 weeks last year, the number is low (four but it was the same one twice so I count it as three 😊 ) but this is the scares her about school.

It makes me think of all the times when I’ve either expressed my fears to someone else or been the person listening to a loved ones fears. It seems like there are three possible outcomes for me when I communicate what scares me: I can feel better, feel not heard or feel worse. Generally speaking, I feel better when I can tease out what is really bothering me and see it in a bigger context, I feel not heard when my fears are dismissed and I feel worse when the person I’m talking to adds their crap to the pile.

On the other side as a listener, I feel like I’m on the tip of understanding something monumental about how we hold each other. I’m pretty naturally and also by profession a good problem solver. But if I go to that, I often miss the point when someone expresses a fear. Because aren’t our fears often teaching us something about what is coming next for us or what we are presently learning? Like when I fear a bogeyman, it’s because I feel powerless and when I fear failure it’s because I’m taking a meaningful risk.

So when I’m listening these days, I try to imagine being a lake. Big enough so that when someone adds their load, it doesn’t overflow the edges. Clear enough so others can see the bottom. Accepting enough to hold someone when they need to float.

School starts tomorrow for my daughter. Given that COVID it brought added awareness that when we are sick we need to stay home, she’s probably going to have a substitute more than 4 times this year. Knowing that, all I could do was listen to why she doesn’t like having substitutes and tease out what it means. It’s the unexpected, it’s a fear of having to prove herself to someone new, it’s the fear that there might be expectations that she might not know. Put like that, it’s what I fear too, so we made an agreement to hold hands and face our fears together.

2 thoughts on “Substitutes

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