Posted by: Kate | July 4, 2009

Break Down

I very, very rarely cry.

Part of the reason is that it just seems sort of a useless exercise. It doesn’t change whatever the upsetting situation is, and I invariably feel worse afterward… now I’m sad/upset/whatever, AND my head hurts and I’m stuffed up. Fabulous.

Another part of the reason is that I just don’t cry pretty. I get all splotchy and pale, at the same time, and my eyes are red and my whole face gets puffy. Then everyone knows I was just crying, and as a rule I like to choose whether or not to share my miseries with others.

That third bit, about choosing whether I put my emotions on display, is the major reason why I don’t cry often. I tend to be fairly controlled, and am not typically prone to any wild fluctuations of behavior. I have my moments, of course, but in general, I don’t reach the heights of giddiness and I don’t reach the lows of despair (the past winter notwithstanding). I’ve been told that I’m stoic when it comes to pain, and that applies to psychic pain as well as physical. For all my babbling here, and loquaciousness in person, I’m actually quite private and withdrawn, at least about some topics. It’s not that I have a list of taboos that I refuse to discuss, it’s just that if I don’t want to share something, I can keep it under wraps very well. I suspect it has a lot to do with spending ten years in the throes of PTSD, when I was rocked by the slightest emotional twinge and felt constantly out of control, and even if I have overcorrected now, I like this a lot better.

I think my kids have seen me cry perhaps three times in their lives, and one was when I fell in the driveway and landed flat on my back. Willem has had the pleasure much more often, because back when arguments and very long, drawn-out discussions happened with some regularity around here, I would eventually hit a wall. As a rule, though, it’s not a common thing; to the point that it’s noteworthy when it does happen.

Tonight, I cried.

The causes were various and, each by itself, not particularly outrageous. Emily had a tantrum regarding the open/closed status of her windows; I got my very first “I hate you,” which I was kind of hoping would take a few more years but kids just grow up so fast… (And yes, she did apologize later, without having to be prompted for it.) We got that resolved, following a very long stretch of drama followed by sulking, and she was in a good mood by dinnertime.

Gretchen, being in the running for sainthood, brought over the makings for her amazing baked stuffed fish, and broccoli, and homemade bread, and strawberry pie for dessert. She put it all together, while I puttered around with Jacob, dealt with Emily’s tantrum, and so on. So when we sat down to eat, I was all set to just really enjoy the meal.

That lasted about 30 seconds.

Jacob, Emily and Willem all announced that they don’t like broccoli, and they didn’t want to eat it. The rule in our house is that you have to take one bite of everything served, and then if you don’t want more, don’t take more. This has cut down on an incalculable number of power struggles and meltdowns at mealtimes, so it serves us well. Willem and Emily put their big-kid pants on and took their “no-thank-you bite,” and then moved on to the wonder of the baked fish. Jacob fell apart. Crying, screaming, tantrumming all over the place, insisting that he didn’t like it and he wouldn’t try even one bite. I went through my bag of tricks, nothing worked. I picked him up to talk to him, and try to feed it to him, and that didn’t work either. I decided to take him into the living room so that we were less intrusive on everyone else’s meal, and on the way I said, “I guess I’ll just have to force-feed him.” As soon as I said it, I regretted it; I was angry and upset, true, but I’ve never been that out of control. It’s just not how we roll, here. We sat on the couch for a while, I talked and he maintained his angst (this is all highly unusual for my normally-very-Zen Jacob, by the way – I’m sure it’s the stress of the move for him, too). So I sent him into his room and asked him to come back to the table when he had control of his body and was ready to eat politely.

That was two strikes, and during/after it I was feeling pretty shaky, but I don’t think they would have knocked my legs out from under me, by themselves. The kicker was that, right as Jacob was starting his tantrum, Willem asked if I wanted him to take this one, since I’d fielded Emily’s drama earlier. I declined, since I had already waded in. Willem heard my “force-feed” comment, and followed us into the living room to make sure I knew that he thought that was too extreme. Which, by itself, doesn’t bother me in the least. He’s right, after all, and it’s good to know that he’s ready and willing to stand up for his kids, even if it means taking on their mother. But from there, things escalated, with both of us having to raise our voices over Jacob’s melodic utterings, and me asking twice for him to wait and talk to me later because now was not a good time. He ultimately did hear that, and honored the request – and this whole interaction couldn’t have taken more than two minutes – but having the stress of hearing his voice like that, and feeling judged when I was already judging myself, and so on, and so forth… it was just too much. Especially because it was all in front of Gretchen. She may be family in my heart, but she still holds status as a guest, too, and that means not dragging her into the more unpleasant scenes.

Once Jacob was in his room (where he calmed down in about 4.2 seconds), I tried to return to the dinner table, but just couldn’t do it. I went to my room, locked the door, sat on my bed, and just sobbed.

It was no one’s fault, just the accumulation of stresses and frustrations and angst until I couldn’t keep it all together anymore. Within half an hour, I was back at the table and, after a bumpy start, able to talk with Gretchen and finish my meal. Within an hour, I was feeling pretty much myself again, and within two hours, we were well-ensconced in an orgy of yard-sale pricing and organizing – M. came over, too, which was a treat both because she has a more-than-adequate share of awesome and she helped a lot, and also because it’s just cool making a new friend (she is the mom of the boy Jacob had a playdate with) – and overall, the evening was salvaged. Willem and I talked it through a little, just enough for each to understand where the other was coming from, and the kids settled down and had a decent rest-of-the-evening.

But still.



  1. Not that this was the point of this post – and I’m sorry that it all went down that way and glad that things returned to relatively status quo pretty quickly- but does anyone “cry pretty”? I get splotchy, red-eyed, snot everywhere and sweaty. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone look good while crying. Except maybe in the movies.

  2. Another ugly-crier here …

    I’m glad your situation got resolved pretty quickly. Though I don’t like crying in front of people, for me I find the act of crying a welcome release, and I usually feel a lot better after.

  3. You know, I hate crying too. It always feels like a loss of control, which is a very uncomfortable position for me. I allowed Shane to see me cry at a movie a few weeks ago and that was a big deal. He cries all the time so I’m sure he didn’t think anything of it. Do you ever see Willem cry?

  4. […] So, we make a good story for friends to tell other friends. But the reality is so much harder, so much less amazing, than people want to hear about. They want an, “…and then we all lived happily ever after,” and I can’t even imagine that kind of feeling right now, much less envision it. I’m so deeply defeated by the endless loop of this situation that I find myself in tears at least daily, and I am not a cryer (not least because I do not cry pretty). […]

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