“Mom has only cried twice before,” Grace told the boys in the car the other day.
“Mom has cried more than that!” Noah said.
“I cry sometimes, Gracie,” I told her looking at her through the rearview mirror.
“Well, not as much as I have,” Grace muttered.
I smiled. “Well, I didn’t just fall off my bike yesterday. I’m sure I would have cried too.” She seemed satisfied with that answer. But as we drove on, it got me thinking.
It’s interesting how my generation had far less access to technology and yet, in spite of our more frequent interpersonal communications back in the day (passing notes in class was our version of texting), we were much more stigmatized about opening up and sharing our feelings. I remember back in high school, if you cried or flipped out, you were accused of being dramatic or being a “spaz” or “psycho.” Those last two insults have always pushed my buttons.
I was talking to my kids about this today. I enjoy having these conversations with them because it fascinates me to see how they are perceiving the world now versus how we did twenty years ago. Talking about feelings is so commonplace to them now and I actually love that. It wasn’t that way when I was a kid.
For example, if my parents wanted me to clean my room, I was just expected to do it. There was never an explanation. The answer to “Why?” would have been, “Because I said so.” We really didn’t have conversations about our feelings or things that bothered us. We laughed off a lot of the things that made us upset (you didn’t want to “spaz” out about it).
I recently told one of my favorite childhood stories of my doll Sweet Sea to a few of my friends. And while I grew up believing this story was wildly hilarious, and my friends also found it funny, they were also slightly horrified by it. So I would love to share it here. It’s one of my favorites meant to equally horrify and entertain you.
When I was four, I had a beloved mermaid doll that I received for Christmas one year. She had 80s mermaid hair of wild blonde curls and a cherub-like face. Since she was a mermaid, obviously she needed to go in the bathtub with me. The problem was, when Sweet Sea took her first dip, her synthetic hairstyle was ruined. It no longer looked like the mermaid in the commercials (when I told my kids this story, I had to explain what a commercial was). After my bath, I asked my mom to fix Sweet Sea’s hair. The ponytail she twisted it into was unsatisfactory. So was the next style, and the one after that. Try as she might, she couldn’t get the hairstyle the way it had been. She was getting frustrated. Her lips were getting thinner holding in her fury, as was her patience. My dad heard my mom’s voice raising which rarely happened. So he came into my room and grabbed the doll from my mother’s sweating fingers. Looking at my dad’s vice grip hands, even in my four-year-old mind, I knew where this was going. My dad made the worst attempt yet at styling fair Sweet Sea’s mane.
I must have screeched, “No! You’re ruining her!” Or something to that effect, because the next thing I knew, Dad was wrenching Sweet Sea’s entire head from her little defenseless mermaid body, wound up for his hardest fast pitch, and pelted Sweet Sea’s head at my bedroom wall. Then he picked up her head and jammed it back onto her body rendering Sweet Sea neck-less for the rest of her plastic life. I wailed and Dad suppressed fits of laughter handing me back my doll and cackling, “Here’s your precious Sweet Sea.”
Now you have to admit, if you have children, you know you have been pushed to the point of similar insanity whether over Legos or drawing a picture that “was supposed to have a green cat, not blue.” I’m sure that my dad must have been experiencing something similar in that moment. Maybe you’ve even acted on it—No judgement here people! But you likely were so wracked by guilt (as parents of our generation often are), you later had a conversation with your child and somehow expressed an apology to them, whether in the form of a cookie or actual spoken word, you would have attempted to make things right.
My dad took a different approach. He usually did on most things. That infamous story simply became one for the history book in our family. I’ve heard it many times growing up and I did eventually learn to laugh about it, because A. It is hilarious and B. I saw how silly I was being about my toy’s hair. But I still remember the incident. I never got an apology. Such a thing wouldn’t have entered my dad’s mind because he was fully justified in his reaction to my “ridiculousness.”
People from my parents’ generation may attest to the idea that people are too sensitive now; no one has a sense of humor about themselves. And I do agree with that on some level, we need to lighten up and learn to laugh at ourselves and our hang ups, but I also love how honest people are becoming with their life journeys. Everyone is talking about their feelings and I think that’s a beautiful thing! It’s refreshing to pick up a book and see someone laying out their vulnerabilities bare for all the world to see. I am loving writers like Elizabeth Gilbert, Glennon Doyle, Rachel Hollis, and Jen Hatmaker who do it with humor woven into their very personal stories.
We have to laugh. We have to stop and look at life sometimes and ask, “How in the hell did I end up here?” When I do, I find myself either laughing or crying, or sometimes both depending on the day. But I know I am learning from everything I’m going through. And oddly enough, I don’t feel as angry anymore. I am making my peace and accepting where I am, where life has brought me to. I am accepting who I am becoming, broken bits and all and in spite of what anyone thinks of me, or what I used to think of myself, I like myself much better being real about who I am.