Friday, August 9, 2013

On crying and control

(This is not about bereavement. Sorry about the juxtaposition. The calendar is messing with me.)

I’m going to cry tomorrow, E said with grave certainty last night. Today is the last day of camp. This is the same camp that terrified her at the beginning of summer, the one over which she cried in anticipation of its beginning, the one where she locked herself in a bathroom stall during family orientation the day before camp started and refused to come out because it was all too much. I didn’t tell you that story? No. Because it was all too much.

And now it’s all too much in the other direction. Cue the crying, because all things come to an end. The delimited institution of summer camp is temporally challenging for a child who needs at least a month in adjustment time for feeling fully comfortable with any change. The truth is, we’re just now really getting our camp groove and the ground flattens, 4pm. Camp is over. Find a different rail to ride.

This girl is more self-aware than most kids her age, a quality honed on years of worrying, fretting, comparing, trying not to stand out in any way. The emotional tools that anxiety cuts its teeth on are the foundation of navel-gazing. And so a girl who says on Thursday night that she will cry is guaranteed to cry on Friday. And you see the problem, right?

It is not enough to face the loss that we found the right camp this year and E fell in love and now it’s over; public crying is not the stuff of trying not to stand out in any way. Beginnings are hard and endings are just as hard. Anxiety is always hard and biting.

In a way we all acculturate ourselves to the blandest common denominator, don’t we? Don’t cry in public. Don’t wear your vulnerabilities on your sleeve. Why, really, is repressing your truest emotion a sign of civility? What’s the moral in that lesson? It’s a thing I think about as I watch my child prepare herself for an emotional day. She doesn’t know yet, really, that some people will themselves not to cry (not that she could do so, I think, even if she knew and tried). She does know that she cries more than most and she does wish that it wasn’t so.

But not to have your big feelings, I tell her, would be not to have your big feelings. Smaller feelings wouldn’t fit a heart of your size. It is no shame to love so deeply, to offer such loyalty, to pour out unreserved enthusiasm. The hard big feelings are the coin-side shadow of the wonderful ones, and to deny those would be to wish that you weren’t you. I could never wish that, I tell her, because your big heart is your gift to the world. Only time will tell how you employ it but it is your gift.

It is a tenet of childhood that adults make the rules. You will go to summer camp because we believe that the experience will be good for you; and anyway we have to go to work. You will go to second grade because you need to learn. And because we have to go to work. You will go where we tell you, because we are your guardians and your chauffeurs and your time keepers. You may fall in love with place and persons on your time, but that clock will always strike 4pm.

In adulthood, we can allow for much more leeway in how much and how suddenly we let change into our lives. Travel the world? Apply for a new job? Stay in the same place for decades in the same routine eating the same two slices of toast slightly burnt and on the same chipped blue plates? Whatever floats your boat. (To a large extent,) We control our transitions and disruptions.

But in her childhood, we said: go to camp. And now we’ve said: stop going to camp. And the world has the gall to ask: why are you crying?

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