On Being a Crier

The cafeteria was dark. As the lights were turned on, lighting one segment of the cafeteria and then another, the 5th graders rose noisily from their chairs. Tears streamed down my face. In my naiveté, I let them continue and eventually they dripped off my jaw to create dark dots on my shirt. We filed out of each row, waiting as the other kids formed a line to leave through the double doors. Teachers stood by each side of the exit, generally uninterested in the orderly proceeding until one teacher’s head rebounded from its automatic path so she could get a better look at me. I think that was the first time I realized others noticed my weeping. Why did the school pick Old Yeller as a school-wide movie anyway?

Shortly afterward I received frequent comments that indicated I cried “too easily.” Though the statements were meant more as observations, they were delivered with a sense of bewilderment and teasing showing my tearfulness was atypical. While I’ve never been able to prevent myself from crying, I certainly changed my lifestyle–whether in front of others or even alone–to avoid being the crier.

Sad movie? Definitely not! Sad book? Nope! Drama with the death of a beloved or young character? Unh-unh. While one may be able to stop oneself from feeling strongly, I did not want to mute my feelings, thus I avoided. No such melancholy-inducing media for me. It was not just because of the blotchy face and smeared mascara, though waterproof mascara is my good friend. I am still embarrassed to have people look at me curiously because of my unusual reaction. Especially when watching Bobby Brady get paralyzed in a car accident in a rerun of a TV movie reunion of a 30 year-old show can make me cry as an adult. Despair is also not a feeling I want to voluntarily experience as entertainment.

However, it’s not just sadness that turns on the waterworks. Feeling overwhelmed, amazed, happy, bittersweet, contemplative, regretful, or impressed, in some circumstances, can leave me with sentiment leaking out of my eyes. I am the person crying at weddings. Having children means I am often emotional in public. First anything? Tears! Recitals, school performances, even school projects like science fairs. My child is performing in chorus with the entire class and my vision becomes so blurry I don’t know if I’m taking the video properly because I can’t see.

While I am very self-conscious about continuously wiping at my face and having shaky video during moments other parents easily handle with more grace, I have recognized being able to immerse myself so fully into otherwise conventional occurrences is also fortunate. I don’t see beauty, I am steeped in it–experience it as if my every sense is as stimulated as much as my sight; to feel, not just in my head or heart, but with the whole of my being. I can hardly believe I don’t affect the very atmosphere around me.  I am always a little shocked when I am happy and look in the mirror to see regular, old me. I think I should be glowing! It only seems fair–if my feelings are so immense that I can’t contain them when they involve tears, they should be equally as overflowing with joy. Though I think my husband would say they are overflowing–out of my mouth through excessive talking!

When my daughter saw an adorable chipmunk meet his end at the paws of our beloved and carnivorous kitty, I understood her heaving sobs well. And I hugged her and could say I truly understood and let her have the experience of her deep grief. I feel some success as a parent when, years later, she told me she was reading a book in class and said, unabashedly, that she was so affected by it that she sat in her high school classroom, in front of her peers, with tears streaming down her face openly, unashamed, and accepting of being moved so deeply.


Long Evenings and Good Mornings

The deep drone fills the entire house. I can feel it slightly vibrating the walls. Beep beep beep. I stop what I’m doing and listen for a moment. Then two more. Ah! The alarm has been shut off. The milk I pour into the cup is extra cold and the chocolate syrup takes a while to mix in completely. I put the milk on the table and place a napkin, no, two napkins, next to it.

The bright green digits of the clock on the stove tell me a number of minutes have passed since the alarm was turned off and I haven’t heard any noise from upstairs. At the bottom of the stairs, I pause, listening intently. No movement. I walk up the stairs and peek into the bedroom. A little boy shaped lump, like a mummy made with spaceship-decorated fabric, is laying quietly in bed with the blanket over his head, blocking the light. Asleep.

Loudly, I call to the dog. “Let’s go, Boy! Wake up time!” At the head of the bed, I kiss the round shape at the top of the blanket-mummy and say a cheery, “Good morning” just as the dog jumps onto the bed and starts bouncing him into a wakeful state. I peel back the blanket and give him a kiss on his exposed cheek.

Groggy though my son is, he is still young enough to consider such brash attention first thing in the morning with the good intentions with which it was intended. The dog sniffs his ear and my son starts smiling even though he is not quite awake. To jump start his thinking, I remind him, “Today is picture day! Do you want to wear something special or regular clothes? You have a button down shirt. What about a tie? You can use one of Daddy’s ties. I just have to learn how to tie it.” He surprises me by agreeing to wear the necktie. Google to the rescue.

In only a few years, judging from my experience with my oldest child, such pleasant, if slow, morning interactions will disappear to be replaced by pressing snooze until just enough time remains for the student to throw on (hopefully) clean clothes and dash out the door. All with very little interaction with mommy.

When did I realize our family would never achieve Ozzy and Harriet style fuss-free mornings and evenings? When my kids stopped napping regularly at one and half years old. Sleep, naps or a normal bed time, was elusive. From playing with toes to recounting the entire day and discussing the philosophy of Pokemon—why would anyone want to close their eyes and put a stop to such riveting contemplations? While I like to be understanding, and being privy to the thought processes of my precocious little one makes it easy, we still had to impose silent time.

Rather than wake up when the extra-loud alarm clock buzzes insistently, it is turned off and the morning routine starts to slip. These are the days I hope there is something simple to make for breakfast. I make sure his feet are on the floor and he is supporting his own weight before I go back to the kitchen.

Because I volunteered to learn how to tie a necktie, we’re running a bit later than usual. Just as he comes downstairs, I place a re-heated waffle on the table. I do the morning check: Shoes? Yes. Hair brushed? Good enough. Oops! The shirt is on inside out. He’s a good sport and fixes it.

The time I spent learning how to tie a necktie was probably why we missed the bus. I had the brilliant idea a week ago to get up and cook breakfast 15 minutes earlier. Did it help? No—it took an extra 15 minutes to eat. It was a relaxed 15 minutes, though. It seems, much like projects at work, the task will expand to fit the time available. Ultimately, what works for us is a bit of flexibility; I recognize that we might just need to drive in more than other families.