This Mad Mama! Moment brought to you by… repression.
Orlando was standing in the kitchen doorway, crying. I had been trying to comfort him but had moved over to spot Mica after he pushed the chair up to the desk and began climbing. Orlando kept crying. He had hurt himself, or was upset about a toy, or something.
His crying was loud. I told him, “Boo, your crying is too loud. Our housemates are still asleep.”
He kept crying. Loudly. I told him, “Boo, stop crying.”
He kept crying. I told him, again, more urgently, “Stop crying!”
He wailed to me, “I can’t stop crying! I can’t. My body needs to keep crying!”
I don’t think it is a small coincidence that I have a very distinct childhood memory of myself standing at the bottom of the stairs (our bedrooms were downstairs), yelling up to my parents as they sat in the living room, “Can I come up now?” and hearing my mom say back, “Yes. When you can stop crying.” And I remember the despair that filled me as I wailed, “But I can’t stop crying!” I sobbed and cried and sobbed some more, and returned to my room.
It’s a pretty melodramatic memory, yes. But it belies a more general reality of how I felt as a child: too emotional. I was always overreacting. I cried too loudly, too often, at the wrong time.
Over the last year or so, I have been able to see myself saying “Stop crying” to Orlando and recognize the irony and sadness in how I am reflexively parenting the way I was parented. I had seen that dramatic memory of myself at the bottom of stairs before, but something shifted when I remembered it while my son said the same thing I said as a child, “But I can’t stop crying!”
I decided I wasn’t going to say “Stop crying” anymore.
So, a few days later, we were staying at my brother and sister-in-law’s for the night (long story involving days-long power outages in our neighborhood), and Orlando and I were in the bathroom, washing his hands.
I squirted out some soap for him. The soap went straight into his eye. He screamed and said, “It’s in my eye! It’s in my eye! I need some water!”
I splashed water on his eye and he screamed, “It’s wet! It’s too wet!”
I yelled back, “It’s water! Of course it’s wet!”
And then he told me, “No more water,” and he asked me to go in the bedroom with him. We went in the bedroom where we were staying and I lay down on the bed. Orlando sat next to me and cried. And cried. And cried.
He asked me to tell him the story of when he sprayed perfume in his eye one year ago (a very frantic incident that involved me calling poison control and trying to convince Orlando to let me pour water in his eye (and then eventually doing it) while infant Mica lay on the floor nearby). He cried while I told the story. He cried when the story was done.
I lay there, and lay there, and could feel myself, literally, trying to crawl out of my skin. First, I was panicked about whether or not his eye was really okay, so I kept asking him, “Is it okay? Does it sting? Can you see?”
“Stop talking, mama!” He cried.
Then, I was worried that his crying was too loud and was disturbing everyone else as they tried to eat dinner. I started to tell him that I thought it was a little too loud, but then I stopped myself and tried to sit quietly.
At some later point, I simply began to feel that he had cried “enough.” Yet I recognized the pure arbitrariness of the decision AND the wrongness of someone else making the decision for the one who is crying. So I didn’t say anything.
He kept crying. It had been maybe twenty minutes. I started to worry that he was working himself into a panic and needed some help “coming down” from the crying. I asked him if wanted help stopping.
He told me, “I just need to cry-y-y-y-y.”
So, I “let” him cry. What I mean is that I sat there resisting the urge to stop him, and concentrated on gently bringing myself back to the present moment. My son is crying. He wants me to be here.
But the antsiness kept coming back, and I finally told Orlando that I knew he needed to cry and that was okay, but I needed a little break and I was going to get Papa.
He cried, and said okay. But just then Rom came in and we all sat there together, and Orlando cried some more. He cried until he didn’t need to cry anymore.
And just like that, he was done crying and everything was okay again. In fact, things felt a bit better than okay. You know how it feels after a good cry?
I know he will cry again, and that I will again feel the same urge to stop him that I felt upon myself as a child. This is a practice… just like meditation or yoga, and I will try, again, to acknowledge but not reflexively act on that urge. I will try to be with myself as best I can, so I might be with my son as he honors his own body.
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May all beings be free of pain and suffering.