Sunday, February 24, 2013

Tearful Earful

At the age of 2 you spend a significant amount of time crying.  Not infant need-based crying, but the kind with some budding emotional content. Of course I don’t accurately remember my own early childhood, and my own children were a little stoic; I think they sensed their mother suffered from melancholia and felt safe.  But from the ones I've observed, there seem to be 3 phases.

The first phase--- the trigger-- is frustration.  You simply don’t get what you want, or you want to get what you can’t have until you’re older--- your own proprietary extra-large ice cream cone, a ride on the roller coaster, a few minutes of independence on the sidewalk.  These things are no-negotiation impossible.  So it progresses into crying for its own sake, because let’s face it--- tears don’t really have punctuation.  Adults cry until someone tells us a joke or has to use the bathroom in which we have locked ourselves, or we are so congested that we have to blow our nose which startles us into a self-awareness-based mood shift.  So kids cry through the point at which they forget all about the dropped ice cream or whatever it was--- and pretty soon there just seems no dignified way out.  At a certain point, if they have cool educated parents, they begin to realize that their mother not only has no sympathy but she’s not even annoyed enough to whack them or scold… and like a future ex-boyfriend on one of the first bad dates, she is just turning off.  Then the crying revs into third gear because there is some vague awareness that they are actually causing the very emotional abandonment which is the archetypal root of crying in the first place… and the exact opposite of the desired result.  Phase 3 is unadulterated toddler misery. Wailing.    

From my son's recent relationships I notice the Drama queens can go through a parallel kind of process; first the precipitated crying, then the momentum- hysterics, then the horrific realization that their boyfriend or whoever has shut down and is looking at his phone.  So you can either cut your losses, or just draw it out because it is the end.  Maybe not tonight, but he is already considering the girl who gave him her number on line at Starbucks yesterday.  Whether it will be lunch or dinner, what he will wear.  What she will wear.  Drama queens also know serious hysteria burns calories.  So there is a silver lining, if they really want to go the distance.  But catharsis? Only if you are alone, and seriously guide your crying through a treacherous and fuel-guzzling psychological-emotional journey. 
Big Girls Don’t Cry… the song.. .I remember it so well… over and over, I played my sister’s 45.  Was it the lyrics? The heartbreaking harmonies? The cool rainbow on the label?  The title?
I already knew that.  Babies cry.  Little sisters can’t.  You get enormous contempt.  But all of my early record-purchases from Sam Goody were about crying.  ‘Rhythm of the Rain by the Cascades, ‘Go Now’, Skeeter Davis’ ‘End of the World’, Marianne Faithfull…”As Tears Go By’… Everyone was crying.  Elvis.  Buddy Holly.  The Beatles, the Stones, the Mamas and the Papas; Smoky Robinson, Otis.

So today I look at these 2 year olds without impatience or annoyance. ‘Knock yourself out I want to say,  'it gets you nowhere.' In about 10 minutes you will begin to fear that your mother will never again respect you or look at you in that way she used to.  You will regret this.  I watch them convulsing, moving from phase 1 into 2nd gear, shuddering, a little drama…

Can you remember the first time you sabotaged a relationship?  When everything was perfect—the way he looked at you, the things you said… and then something dark wafted in--- a glimmer of jealousy, discontent--- whatever… and you let yourself down from the pedestal for just a minute… and you knew you’d blown it.. .and now what?  Walk out? Manipulate him by leaving first as though you’d planned it? Or hang in and bash the walls in--- ? Let him see your very worst, worst, nastiest side...? Cry?

Men don’t like crying.  Certainly that racist drunk asshole on the plane was not impressed.  Okay, he had issues.  But generally men don’t like crying babies or crying women and they certainly don’t tolerate other crying men well.  I can remember hearing 'Tears on my Pillow' blasting on the car-radio of the college student that drove us back and forth to nursery school.  It blew my 3-year old mind.  It had that minor key thing and I felt really, really bad for the singer.  He was a man.  

Onions, my Mom used to tell me on those nights I'd catch her alone at the kitchen table, my father shut in his den with the newspapers and the Scotch.  She was a Big Girl.  If I'd only peeled back that onion,  stood my ground, might not have taken 50 years for me to feel something for her.  She was singularly non-comforting when I was falling apart.  I got my teenage spiny solace from Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath.  Tears are just superficial.  There were deeper, darker, bloodier places to explore.  Sadness was something to dissect-- a dare, maybe.  

When I moved to England, I remember some Broadcast Psychologist urging the Brits to grieve after a massive tragic accident.  I found that ironic, until I realized my own husband, who was a bit of a crybaby,  only pretended to sympathize when I righteously and tearfully accused him of an affair with the fashion editor at his newspaper.  His denial was cold and complete.  She had water-proof mascara, and still looked perfect when she came weeping to me after he dumped her weeks later.  

'Save your tears; this is anybody's call' is an 'auto'- lyric from one of my songs.  I am, of course, speaking to myself, and it had little effect when I tried it out on the screaming 2-year old on the subway this morning.  His mother was brilliantly ignoring both of us and several trapped passengers who were  holding their ears.  Some were even laughing.  But most, I realized, including the child's mother, had their earbuds in and were listening to Rihanna or with full frontal empathy.

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