It’s Saturday morning and we’ve just pulled into the parking lot; Ava (14) and Alexander (12) have archery class. Jordan (9) will wait with me. He has no interest in archery.
Ava’s not feeling the best, runny nose, a bit of a headache. She decides she’s not going to participate today, says she doesn’t want to be putting her bow down every two minutes to wipe her nose.
Here’s the conversation:
“Ava, it’s fine. If you don’t wanna participate, it’s fine. But you could always go and see how you feel first. If it’s a problem then just come on back out.”
She thinks hard about it for a minute. She always considers all options. “Ok, I’ll go in,” she decides.
She’s brought her shoes in case she changed her mind about going in; she’s not wearing them yet. In the scuffle to get them on, I hear her sigh in frustration.
“What is it, Ava?” I pause. “You don’t have to go in if you don’t want to.”
“It’s not that…” She sighs again. “I brought one of your shoes and one of mine!”
It was an easy mistake since our shoes are identical. They are two different sizes but mine are only slightly bigger than hers. She’s worn my shoes in the past so while it was a thing, I understand, I didn’t think it was a huge deal.
“Ava, it’s fine. Nobody will notice.” I try not to let her hear the mild entertainment in my voice. I don’t want this hiccup to stop her from going in, after all, I did pay for the classes.
I was busy considering whether she would be comfortable wearing the two different shoes, realizing it was possible she wouldn’t be and accepting that, really just waiting to hear her say it…
“And they’re both left!” She finally shrieks. To which, her brothers and I bust out laughing.
Two left shoes. That was funny.
I really thought she would be laughing, too. But when I turn around in the driver’s seat to look at her shoes, there she is, full-blown-melt-down-face, giant frown, tears streaming.
This is normal.
Life With An Emotional Child
My daughter is the most emotional person in my family. My mother is also very emotional. I am almost the exact opposite of them. Before my daughter came into my life, I didn’t understand, let alone even consider attempting to relate to overly emotional people. They just confused me. No thanks to that unnecessary life complication.
When Ava was born, she was the happiest baby. When she was around six months old she started making faces and acting in such a way that made me wonder if she was scared of something or sad. It was probably about the time when a baby starts laughing at things that she was also starting to show other emotions. I had never seen that in a baby before. It was almost like a turning something on and off. People, things, and sounds would set her off. It was very different than the experiences I’d had with my boys.
Her emotional responses seemed to grow more frequent and more intense as she got older. As a baby, she cried when the theme song to Roseanne (the TV show) came on. She cried if tickle-me-Elmo or any talking toy talked to her. Playing peek-a-boo seemed to scare her and she was startled by toys that made noise or had moving parts. She hated strangers and would scream in their faces if they looked directly at her or, God-forbid, talked to her.
Was this the difference between boy and girl children? No one had ever mentioned that to me.
When she was little, I had no idea what was going on with her. I honestly thought, oh this is what makes girls and boys different. Though it wasn’t anything that was overly troublesome for me, I figured she would eventually grow out of it. It wouldn’t be until she was about five or so that I started to tie things together in my mind. She was just going to be my emotional child. As soon as she could read, I was buying her books about emotions. Never to suppress, but to help her understand why she felt the way she did and to let her know that it was ok to cry!
By the time she was seven, Ava was little-sister to sixteen and fourteen-year-old brothers who understood her like they understood the desire to be a princess. She was big-sis to five and two-year-old brothers who also cried all the time but in a more typical way. They cried expressing hurt, fear, madness, and frustration as well, but they weren’t hurt, afraid or frustrated nearly as easy, or as often as she was, so it seemed. By the time she was ten, we were all very used to her emotional outbursts even if by now she was trying hard to keep them under wraps. The older boys knew her well enough to be able to predict what would make her cry and had started to have some fun with it:
Are you gonna cry, Ava?”
Really? How absolutely, obnoxiously inappropriate. But, I guess it was only a matter of time before the insensitive child found a way to pick on the sensitive one.
And of course, as hard as she tried not to cry, here came the tears. Literally, all it took was someone asking her if she was going to cry, and she would. As soon as she would burst into tears, little-bro, Alexander, would announce, with his finger straight in the air, “TO THE FEELINGS BOOK!” After that, of course, Jordan and the other boys had started replying to her with that quote as a regular response to the crying. Happy, sad, whatever the emotion, they would direct her to the feelings book. Luckily, she had actually begun to take some comfort in that. It was normal that she was crying.
It’s Not About Being Sad
It didn’t take long to realize that the typical reasons to cry (hurt, sad, mad) were only the tip of the iceberg when it came to why Ava was crying. Ava and Alexander share a birthday and I have several years of video footage documenting the polar opposite reactions to birthdays. Parties, gifts, and cake and ice cream are a good reason for any kid to be happy and excited, but for Ava, overwhelming joy and excitement always lead to the happy-tears. Every year on Christmas and birthdays you can hear Alexander predicting, “Here comes the tears of joy!” when she opened something we all knew she’d been wanting, and about a second later, Ava’s eyes were filled, smiles and all.
Crying is just how Ava deals with any strong emotion. And we weren’t the only ones who were confused about this. For years when she would start tearing up at happiness and excitement my response was, “Ava! Why are you crying?” or “Why are you sad?” and she would smile big, tears and shaky voice and respond, “I’m not!” She didn’t even understand what was going on!
I hate that it took so long, but accepting that crying is not related to sadness was an almost incomprehensible concept to me before she came along. I literally only cry at funerals. For so many years I had accepted that crying about everything was something that she just did, but the revelation that she wasn’t a perpetually sad person has made such a huge difference in how we deal with her and her constant crying. And of course, we were relieved since being perpetually sad would be quite tragic. I’m not constantly trying to console her anymore, and she’s not trying to explain why she’s sad when she’s not. All of us understanding her has been so freeing for her as well.
Because it’s ok! She cries. It’s part of her personality! Who knew?
The Effect Of The Emotional Child On Society
Apparently, if your response to heightened emotion is crying, it’s not that easy to control. I have watched my daughter learn to control it to some extent. This is something she has done on her own, though it is no doubt related the noticeable reaction people have to it. I can only imagine it has been a source of stress for her, the possibility of breaking down at any given moment for any given reason. And it could easily be considered in the category of most embarrassing moments in life, especially for a teenager.
Society, as PC and sensitive as it is, still doesn’t seem all that comfortable with the crier. Family and friends can get used to it, understand it’s not something she can help. But it remains something most people don’t want to be present for. Obviously, it’s easier to deal with when it’s something funny that’s made her cry, but when it’s sadness, madness or frustration that causes it, people tend to panic. It gets awkward. Eyes bulge, people pretend not to notice, others quietly back out of the room. Those who are too close to make an easy getaway look to me for an answer and I can only give them a tight-lipped smile and shrug. This is Ava.
So over the years, I have had the conversations with my family members, with Ava. Her participation, I think, makes people a little less uncomfortable. She is totally ok talking about it. It’s a big enough part of who she is that we have to talk about it. It affects other people, which affects her. And we can’t have her worrying about whether or not she’s making people feel awkward. That’s not her problem, it can’t be, only it is. We talk about it for her comfort as well as everyone else’s. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel responsible for maintaining everyone else’s comfort, it’s not really about that. But I do want her to feel ok with being herself! I don’t want her to feel panicked, worrying about how others will handle her crying. I don’t want her to question her emotions or think there is something wrong with her.
Ava and I have spoken at length and often about her emotions. We have discussed how totally different we are from each other. Changing how she dealt with her emotions was something I worried a lot about because I needed her to know that she doesn’t need to change, and I don’t want her to think she has to.
My mom was what can only be described as bullied as a child about her emotions. The grown-ups, intolerant of her crying, eyes rolling, would announce, “well here she goes again,” or “look she’s gonna ‘tune-up’,”or, “here come the water works.” My mom fought hard to suppress her emotions throughout her life. And I know it affected her. Throughout my childhood, she never showed emotion. It surprised me to learn of her experiences living with having to push feelings down to try to avoid crying.
Today, my mom reminds me of how my daughter will be as an adult, and that is someone who will tear up about both happy and sad things, as well as things that cause rage or frustration. I’m so happy she is finally herself. And I’m happy my daughter will not feel the shame that is associated with crying about everything because there is no shame in being yourself.
Society can suck it up and learn how to deal with the crier as far as I’m concerned because why my daughter cries easily is not about society. I would love to start to see some empathy in the world. Society needs to realize it’s not always about you. And how you feel will not be considered when I encourage my daughter to be herself. I do think Ava will learn how to control it better when she is an adult. But if/when she feels the urge to cry, I don’t want her to worry about how someone else feels about it. I hope she doesn’t have to.
To this day, if you ask her if she is going to cry, there is a good chance she will.