Can we settle in and be real?
No, not everyone is having a better time than you. No, you aren’t the only one who wishes you’d passed on the second slice of coconut custard pie. Yes, we’ve said it before, but that doesn’t make it any less true: Families coming together for holidays are a movable feast of food and family history, old gripes and edgy new connections. And, yes, the coronavirus pandemic and political fractiousness will take seats at our tables this year.
So give yourself a break. With Thanksgiving just behind us and this month’s Hanukkah/Christmas/New Year’s Eve trifecta ahead, we need to treat ourselves with care. We’ve all been through a meat grinder. It’s OK if the fruitcake isn’t homemade. It’s fine if the gift-giving isn’t a whirlwind of gimme-gimme-gimme.
To strike a vulnerable note myself, these ideas didn’t come to me just like that. Lately I have been watching and reading Brené Brown, the MSW and Ph.D. researcher-scientist who’s a professor at the Universities of Texas and Houston. She says she has studied courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy for the past few decades. She says she is a storyteller. She has a Netflix documentary out, several books that hit bestseller lists and podcasts galore. She has a unique style propelled by wit and infused with intelligence. She tells us we need to be vulnerable. She tells us that when we’re willing to be vulnerable, we connect with people in more genuine ways.
“I believe that you must walk through vulnerability to get to courage, therefore … embrace the suck,” Brown says. “I try to be grateful every day, and my motto right now is ‘courage over comfort.’”
Vulnerability might look like sharing something about yourself you might tend to hold back, or telling somebody they have hurt you in some way, or stepping out of your comfort zone to try some new adventure or job or social group. Brown talks a lot about vulnerability, and how it makes us so much more approachable.
She’s an influencer who has the creds to influence, unlike so many wannabes. So smart, so funny and so authentic. I identified with her immediately when she told a story of her daughter going to a prom. Her date picks her up in his pickup truck. The girl is dazzled; the guy is strutting. All Brown can think is, “They’re going to crash.” I get that. She was willing to share that tendency to catastrophize, which as a mother, I own.
I know it all sounds like stuff we know, but try her podcast or her Netflix documentary and see for yourself.
I brought all my newfound wisdom (not that much) to the Thanksgiving table, and now call on myself to be vulnerable and tell you most of the truth of my own holiday experience with the whole family.
The mélange included kids, grandkids (all teens), ex-wives, new partners, airplane travel, car trips, weather, secrets, trying to squeeze 75 years of life lessons into words of wisdom for the grandkids, not because I should or because they want to hear it but because that is who I am. I need to teach, to hope that my words land in fertile ground and set roots, so my family can learn from my experience.
So, to be more vulnerable, I shared some truths with my daughter I haven’t thought to mention in 45 years. I initiated a few risky talks with my son. I told stories on myself to the teenage grandkids, not the usual morality tales I proffer but the real stuff, the dumb stuff, the mistakes that I was lucky to survive. I told them I pretty much stayed within my own no-risk zone all my life, and I know I should have stepped out, and I hope I still may.
This isn’t a recipe, but I noticed that when I opened up a bit with an honest personal story, so did others. Not everyone, but the teenagers did let a crack of light into the mysterious interior of their adolescent lives.
It feels like a challenge with a big payoff. I’m going to keep reading Brené Brown. I’m pushing myself, and it feels right.
Try it for Hanukkah and Christmas and New Year’s. Talk to strangers at the party. Invite someone for dinner. Actually go to the shelter to deliver food. Find a way to find warmth after this long winter apart.
The best of times and the most challenging times lie in the holiday weeks ahead.
Copyright 2022 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.