On Saturday night we went camping with the hockey team. The hockey team that made our winter feel like a Disney movie–full of warm heartfelt lessons and goodness and hard work paying off. For just under 20 hours we were together again. We parents, working side by side to chop, move, carry, sit, talk, rest, build and the boys to run wild and be free together again. With the whole campgrounds at our disposal I thought for sure they would be running wild all night, visible only as a blur of flashlights and glowsticks. They did some of that–but they also huddled in a tent with a hand cranked radio and told stories and ate stolen marshmallows and chocolate bars and giggled.
On Sunday as we drove home, Max sat in the front seat and sang along with the radio–sang at the top of his lungs with the window open. Until recently, such behavior was reserved for embarrassing mothers. But there was something about being among a whole group of people who understood him that cracked open his heart and let the music flow, gave him the confidence to express his joy. Being among people who see him as he is–who don’t expect him to be anything other –opened a door.
Magic happens when we are valued for simply showing up exactly as we are.
There are so many places where we are expected to show up as someone else–or we are given subtle or not so so subtle messages that it would be so much better if we showed up just a little bit differently. Whether we are teased gently or sternly corrected childhood– adulthood–is full of moments where the people who love us the most are telling us to be someone else: stronger, smarter, cleaner, kinder, faster, more popular, more cool, less whiny, more thoughtful. The list goes on and on. There are no shortage of those who would like to improve us, challenge us to grow into our potential. Its important to be pushed. But its also so important to simply just be–and be loved.
One particularly tough night this spring, Max broke down telling me that at school he feels he needs to change to be liked, that he is valued because of who people think he is–not who he is. Or worse still they like parts of him (his athleticism for instance) but other parts (his sensitivity) need to be checked at the door. We all remember that feeling I am sure–that sinking feeling that we are not OK just how we are. Its exhausting and at times debilitating to wonder what will happen, “when they find out”. Worse still is to hold a private shame around the part of us that doesn’t fit their expectations: Our sensitivity, our sexuality, our vulnerability, our desire to sing off key, our struggles.
And that is why moments like our 20 hours in the woods are so important–when we go among our tribe, when we just show up–messy and imperfect and completely brilliantly beautiful and are just loved in a no-nonsense, no big deal kind of way. No one asks you to change as a price of admission. It can unlock something profound and gives us what we need to grow on our own, exactly in the direction we were meant to go. To become someone who sings at the top of our lungs with the windows rolled down with no worries what the world thinks.
There are seasons in our life where we are gifted with these moments–like our hockey season–the moments from which we are given space to blossom into our best selves. Their appearance feels random and lucky.
But I am learning that if I want to keep growing I need to create these moments myself. Sink deeply into the friendships that allow me to show up as I am. Because its only in their company that I will have the confidence, space and courage to transform and grow as I am meant to. With those friends and cousins, magic never fails to happen in my heart.
The night Max felt so sad, we made a list of the friends with whom he feels completely safe and pledged to make the summer about those kids. He is a lucky boy. Despite his struggles at his school, he has a long list in our neighborhood and among his team. With the summer upon us he can sink into the company of his tribe and grow strong.
The fireflies are just showing up, the summer just being born. The summer of tribe has just begun.