I’ve been thinking about blogging on the topic of crying for a while now, but have refrained because I was too nervous it would, well, make me cry.
But this entire year, as my son faces leaving childhood behind and becoming a teen, and my daughter departs from the comfort of elementary school for the semi-independent world of middle school, I’ve had a knot in my chest that expands by the day.
The knot first appeared when I was nursing my infant son. I had a masochistic habit of rocking him in time to Cat Steven’s “Father and Son” (“It’s not time to make a change/Just relax and take it easy/You’re still young, that’s your fault/There’s so much you have to know…”). Playing that song was like an emotional gag reflex that made me cough up heaving sobs every time. I’d blame it on postpartum depression, but clearly there was something else more sinister, and pathetic, at work.
The next phase of inappropriate outbursting culminated at preschool “graduation,” when my son’s class sang, “Puff the Magic Dragon” as part of the celebration. Sure, it’s a song about getting high (as urban legend insists and stoner-icons Peter, Paul, and Mary intriguingly, yet emphatically, deny), but when I listened to it being sung in imperfect 22-part harmony, the line, “a dragon lives forever, but not so little boys” felt as painful as getting rammed in the heart with a pointy, serpentine scale. After they finished, I excused myself to the bathroom and wept uncontrollably by the itty-bitty, mini-toilets, trying hard not to be seen or heard. Given the fact that there were no stalls, it was a really sad attempt, akin to the Jolly Green Giant trying to appear inconspicuous among a bunch of curious sprouts.
By the way, as I write this I’m totally crying. Fucking Puff and Little Jackie Paper — and all those Toy Story characters that have followed in their sentiment-yanking, heartstring-tugging footsteps. Bastards, all of them!
The knot grew exponentially larger when my daughter was in second grade, and I decided that it was the perfect time to dust off my old Free to Be… You and Me to read to her class. The kids loved the Carl Reiner/Peter Stone classic, Boy Meets Girl, and everyone laughed out loud at Shel Silverstein’s Ladies First and Judy Blume’s The Pain and The Great One, but then I made the crucial mistake of closing on a lesser-known poem by Joyce Johnson, The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe.
Perhaps you don’t remember it, but the last few stanzas go like this:
“She remembered the way
she’d felt as a child.
The dreams that she’d had
of lands that were wild,
Of mountains to climb
of villains to fight,
Of plays and poems
she’d wanted to write.
She remembered all
she’d wanted to do
Before she grew up
and lived in the shoe.
There was an old woman
who lived in a shoe
And lived in the dreams
she’d once had too.
She told those she loved,
“Children, be bold.
Then you’ll grow up
But never get old.”
I don’t know whose departure from early childhood I was mourning more — my daughter’s or my own — but on that last line, I welled up, choked up, and let it rip. Twenty-two little faces stared at me, absolutely horrified. As the teacher tried to assure me that this was a very natural and even acceptable response, I cried even harder. It was a fucking nightmare. Years later, my daughter is still trying to shrug off that insane outburst. Every once in a while she says, “Mom, remember when you cried in front of my class?” Normally she likes to bring this up when we are in a mall or even better, a shoe store. She walks out with a new pair of sandals or a shirt, and I feel better for having continued to make reparations for my part in the most embarrassing moment of her young life. Considering that I’ve never let my mom fully off the hook for not letting me go see Bruce Springsteen on the Born to Run tour when I was in fifth grade, I’m imagining I’ll be paying back the Old Woman in the Shoe Incident well into the future.
Given the emotional scarring from such outbursts, you’d think I’d be done with the waterworks. But this week my daughter culminated fifth grade, which means bye-bye elementary school for our family. I’d rehearsed not crying so many times in my head that I boldly left the house without my trusty, old lady purse-sized Kleenex pack… and immediately regretted it when I welled up just looking at the kids line up. When they burst into a little-known American Idol tune,” “Do I Make You Proud?” originally sung by the creepiest, most milquetoast Idol ever, Taylor Hicks, it was all over. My daughter rolled her eyes when she caught mine. Lucky for me, she didn’t see me much the rest of the day, crying in my car, at my computer, and once again late at night when I flipped through some culmination pics a friend posted on Facebook. By the end of the day, I had the worst crying hangover of my life.
At this point, if I had time for therapy, I’d check myself in and never leave. But the good news is that summer is upon us, and there are carpools to sports camp to organize and bags for overnight camp to pack, so there’s not much time to dwell. Instead, I turn back to that old stalwart, Free to Be… You and Me and flip to the page that as a kid I skipped over (nobody really reads the songs, do they?) — It’s All Right to Cry by Carol Hall. The last lines say it all:
It’s all right to know
Feelings come and feelings go.
And it’s all right to cry
It might make you feel better.
Just remember, when you tear up, I’ll always be there for you, crumpled hanky in hand. As my old pal Carole King once said, “You’ve Got a Friend.”
(Sniff, sigh, James Taylor’s version of the song’s stuck in my damn craw… ahhhh shit, I’m weeping once again…)