Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Cry Valve

There’s a mechanism in your throat I call the cry-valve. It’s that thing that swells and chokes your words even when you’ve successfully convinced your eyes not to release tears. I don’t know about you, but mine broke back in pregnancy and has never formed a tight seal ever since.

It started with little things, back when I had a baby in my womb. Once there was a commercial for a security system. During the ad a woman and her children were home while a burglar attempted to break in. “She must have been so scared!” I tried to say, but my cry-valve was stuck open and so my words came out garbled.

After my kids were born, it didn’t get any better. The world hurts differently once you have children. In my opinion, eye wetness can be excused with allergies or hidden behind sunglasses, but it’s that leaky throat cry-valve that is a dead giveaway every single time.

When my eldest son took to the stage for a School of Rock performance I knew to seal my lips tightly. I cried when he first took the stage. I cried when the high school singer did her solo, even though I have no idea who she was. And I cried when a very good drummer took the spotlight, although I had never seen him before, either. But it was dark, and as long as I didn’t try to talk, I was able to hide it from my youngest child who sat beside me.

When my boys were little, I didn’t dare cry in front of them. I was their whole world, and if I crumbled, the entire foundation of our family might’ve fallen. Nothing made me more frantic and afraid then when my own mother cried when I was little.  But my kids are 10 and 13 now. Why do I still want to hide my emotions from them?

Maybe it’s because I tear up over every dang thing. Parades. Little League. A kid landing a jump at figure skating practice. Any event that showcases kids trying really hard causes my cry-value to swell up.

The world is a harsh place, and we have many conversations about it. Most of the time, my cry-valve stays tight for these. It’s when I try to take Mr. Rogers’ advice and “look for the helpers” that I lose it. Stories of bravery and kindness do me in every time. You might think it would be better to just cry in front of them and explain why I’m crying, but I cry way too often. I am—I’ll admit it—an over-crier.

Do I want them to grow indifferent to tears, numbed by their frequency? Or worse, think their mother is emotionally fragile and therefore veer away from me? Plus, I don’t want to open the door to teenage eye rolls and “mom’s crying again” distain. There’s an assumption that parents of teens must refrain from showing any weakness.

But maybe that’s just an excuse. Perhaps my two boys would benefit from knowing that sometimes people cry both when they are sad and when they aren’t, and that’s OK.

There’s a part of me that thinks crying in front of them might make them more sensitive to all the other over-criers out there. Maybe it’s time I try to make space for sadness, emotion, things other than happiness and smiling faces. Are parents not the first people to teach our children to smile when they aren’t happy?  Isn’t that really just asking them to hide who they are to reassure ourselves? Is that how I really want to parent?

Next time, I’ll try to trust my children a little bit more. I’ll try out brave new words like, “crying just means I’m overflowing with pride/love/something meaningful.”
Who am I fooling? I can’t make it through a Disney soundtrack let alone movie without needing to go blow my nose and wipe my eyes from “allergies.” I’m afraid if I open the cry-valve completely, I might never get it shut again. 

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