In the summer of 2008 our family backpacked on an island off the coast of Maine. A small boat dropped us off, motored away, and retrieved us three days later. Our kids, Brenna and Jordan, were 10 and 13.
We spent our days picking wild blueberries and wandering the rocky shoreline, imagining we were castaways, with really nice gear from REI. We watched the waves roll in and searched tide pools for signs of life.
We weren’t quite alone. There were four other campsites on the island and one day as we gathered crab shells…there were a lot of them… we met two marine biology grad students. The grad students explained to our kids that the crabs hadn’t died, but had shed these shells as they grew, and then new, bigger shells replaced the ones we were finding on the rocks.
It was a good conversation and I was grateful the students took time to explain what we saw around us. As we went our separate ways, Brenna said to me, “Dad, I already knew that crabs shed their shells,” and I felt a little glow of parental pride ignite inside. My hearty outdoor girl knew almost as much about crabs as those grad students did.
She went on…”I saw it on Sponge Bob.”
I didn’t know whether to be amused or mildly horrified that my daughter understood the world by watching Sponge Bob Square Pants.
Back to the present…
Last week after a staff development lecture in Iowa, a biology professor walked up to visit. In the lecture, I had talked about discomfort and our need sometimes to sit with that discomfort as we try to learn about and understand others. I said it’s ok to lean into that discomfort as we engage in challenging conversations.
This professor told me that all crustaceans molted, or shed their shells. He told me that as the creatures grew, they became uncomfortable in their smaller shells. When the discomfort became great enough, the animals would tuck into a safe space and shed the confining shell. Without their protective covering, the animals would be vulnerable, so they would stay hidden away until a new shell could harden in its place and then go on with their lives.
Eventually, as they continued to grow, the cycle would repeat. Each time, the discomfort would become so great that they would abandon the security of their smaller shell and create a new one. Without that process of discomfort and vulnerability, they simply could not grow.
Some of my biology may be off…I haven’t watched Sponge Bob in years…but the lesson is sound. Are you getting uncomfortable? Are you willing to be vulnerable for a little while in order to grow?