Michelle Martin

“I want to cry!”

Sunday, December 8, 2013

It’s the age-old lullaby of mamas everywhere, whenever they have a crying child in their arms.

It doesn’t matter if the tears are for a skinned knee, bruised feelings or just because dinner is late. Nearly every mother I’ve ever seen will gather the child close, rock them gently and whisper, “Shh. Hush. It’ll be all right.” Or something to that effect.

And most of the time, the child will gradually calm down, dry their tears and move on. But most of the time, the child isn’t Teresa.

When I start the “Shh, hush,” routine with her, she says, “Why do I have to be quiet? I want to cry!”

And so I explain, she doesn’t really have to be quiet. I’m just trying to make her feel better. And most of the time, the sooner she stops crying, the faster she’ll feel better. A storm of tears may be cathartic, but a prolonged crying session just leaves her with a headache, runny nose and sometimes a stomachache.

And the thing is, when she is ready to stop crying, she likes to be held close and rocked. But not before she is ready.

For the time being, her sense of autonomy can be charming and challenging at the same time. I try to handle it by mostly letting her do things her way, when possible, but not negotiating on the non-negotiables. And when you’re 3, the list of non-negotiables can be pretty long. You have to go to bed at bedtime. You have to eat at dinnertime (or not eat, but don’t look for dinner later). You have to get dressed in the morning and leave the house in time to drop off or pick up your various siblings from their various activities. You have to sit in your car seat, not on the seat of the car next to it. Often, you have to sit still to have your hair brushed. You can’t sit on Mama’s lap while she makes dinner, and you can’t go to the park unless an adult, or maybe teenage sibling, is willing to take you. And, in Teresa’s case, you have to do this in a household where most of those rules apply only to you.

Of course Caroline and Frank have to get dressed and get out of the house in the morning, but they dress themselves, and don’t need to be told to do so. They can sit in any seat they want in the car (except the driver’s seat — and soon Caroline will be able to do that, too) and if they don’t want to come on errands, they can stay home on their own. They can work the TV and computer without help, and fix themselves food if they are hungry and no meal is in the offing. I can see why Teresa feels a bit put-upon, sometimes; maybe I’d want to cry, too.

The thing is, most of the things that frustrate Teresa will change with time. She’s seeing life from a necessarily narrow vantage point right now; it will widen as she grows up. That’s the thing about being human: Our vantage point is intrinsically limited. When we are frustrated with the world, it might help to remember that we don’t understand it all, and won’t while we walk the earth.