I’m going to talk about crying. Forgive me, but I’ve heard a lot of it lately.
Of course, tears are our language before language. The wailing of a baby is the siren that forces you off the road of sleep. There is the hunger, the pain, the whatever that causes it. And you must respond.
I think of my friend’s mom, who just retired after having her own day care practice for close to three decades. She cared for multiple kids each day, alone, with only two hands and one set of nerves. As a teen, I’d see her with those kids and shrug my shoulders. No big deal. Now, I’m amazed at her Cal Ripken-esque feat of child care endurance.
People like her are of a tougher mettle than me. I hear crying and it sets me on edge. I know it is just a fact of life, but I can’t help but feel a desperation at times when our children are wailing. When there is a screaming child in the house, it definitely raises the tension level. It consumes our thoughts. I have paced the house a lot recently with 11 lbs. in my arms, bobbing up and down with shushing noises. Our little boy is already showing a sweet nature. He smiles a lot, particularly at his mother. It’s fun to watch his reaction when she comes in the room. He offers his own language to her. He turns his head to watch where she moves. But our child is like many others. His stomach is not mature. He has pains. I would not classify it as colic, because it’s inconsistent. Some days are much better than others. But on those bad days, man, it can get rough.
Meanwhile, his 4-year-old sister is so excited over the smallest things, like a trip to KFC or a new toothbrush. It is really fun. But the flip side is the easy tears. The disappointment in a sweet snack denied can set off a temporary crying tantrum. And we have to stop what we’re doing and do our best to set her straight. That usually involves a “timeout” in a room by herself. It’s hard to keep her from crying, but we can control where she does it. You get the two children going at once and it makes for a really hectic household.
Anyway, I know the days of constant childhood tears will go away. I will surely miss these days despite the tears. I think of how we cry less and less as we get older, but the occasions for tears mean much more. There are those sad things none of us escape. I try not to spend my life in dread of that, but it’s there. There are also the tears that come with powerful joy. I think of my father and my father-in-law and how their eyes looked a couple of months ago as they stood bedside with their grandson. That’s something I’ll always hold.
We often hear people say something brought them to tears. But I don’t always believe they mean actual tears. I think there are varying degrees of crying. There is the full on thing. But there is also that first surge of emotion, the choke in the throat. There are the things that don’t even cause that, but that make you think of tears.
It can be little things. I remember standing in an antique store in the town of Madison, thumbing through old black and white photos of strangers. The old shots were for sale for several cents each, perhaps just discards from old family albums. I recall one picture of two couples in lengthy bathing suits. They reclined in the sand before an old timey car. It could have been Daytona. That’s where we always went, because that’s where my father’s father always took them. I stared at that shot for a long time, and the way one woman laughed struck me. She was from a time long gone, but the humor was real, not posed, and what set her off is like something lost in the ocean. I purchased the shadow of her moment for a few coins. Old photos can seem poignant, even if it’s folks you don’t know. We recognize something familiar in their faces.
Nowadays, we work pretty hard to soothe young tears. It can be a constant plugging of a pacifier in the night, a small, heated pad strapped around a stomach. But what works once isn’t guaranteed the next time. Sometimes I get lucky though. “You see the light, the light?” And we’ll stand by the lamp in his room with him staring and staring for as long as I can bear to hold him.
It’s nice when it’s that simple.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.