Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Cry Baby

You will never see me cry. Unless you kick me really hard in the shin. Or poke me in the eye. Or slam my hand in your car door.

In this regard I closely resemble "Donkey" from the movie Shrek II. Sold for beans, used as a pinata even as Donkey recounts the horrible emotional traumas he has been put through not so much as a glitter of a tear appears in his eye: it is only when Puss in Boots the cat scratches him that the tear falls. At least, I used to be like Donkey.

Then I had children. Actually it only took the first pregnancy to throw my signature stoic nature out of whack. Disturbingly, for some reason pregnancy has left me with a strange tear imbalance. While it was somewhat distressing, crying at T.V. commercials was just part of the side effects of the state of things when I was pregnant but now, far past pregnancy (my last one is now four-years-old) why am I still getting all choked up by things like Animal Planet? I was watching a show on real live animal rescues with my daughters the other week and a segment came on about the gorilla who saved the little boy who fell into the gorilla enclosure at a zoo. I steeled myself. I've gotten all watery eyed over that one too many times not to put my guard up. But then they followed it with a clip in which a man jumped into a moat at a zoo and rescued a chimpanzee who had been knocked unconscious and fallen into it. Watery eyes, squeaky voice--yup, all choked up.

I also frequently find myself blinking back tears over even less emotionally significant things. When I was teaching Communicative English at University here in Japan, I often found that a correct student response took on the heroic hues of key moments in scenes from movies like "Glory", "Brave Heart" and "The Last of the Mohican's." If a student voluntarily added a follow up comment . . . well, I took in a mug of coffee to each class with me so I could hold it up in front of my face in emergencies.

When I left the university to teach at a preschool--and it came time to hold the first parent-teacher conferences. . . Well really. How could anyone, even someone whose crying mechanism hasn't been all screwed up keep their voice from squeaking and cracking, their eyes misting over with un-shed tears, their hands shaking as they described the accomplishments of fiercely free, exuberant and unshakably confident small children? At least parent-teacher conferences always coincided with the hay fever seasons. . . so I could blame my watery eyes on either cedar or ragweed pollen in the air. Oh, and I sometimes had to pause during story time because valiant tales like "The Little Engine Who Could" had the propensity to choke me up.

But back now to slamming my hand in your car door. Here's the weirdest part of this tear imbalance. While trivial moments in daily life can trigger tears, I still don't cry over the big things. Evidence: I've been married ten years and dated the poor man for ten years before we wed and he has only seen me cry. . . once. And that was when I was having an emotional breakdown from sleep deprivation due to the fact that my first born NEVER slept for the first year of her life. Otherwise, all arguments have been conducted tear free.

Even when my husband let it slip early in our relationship how relieved he was that I wasn't one of those girls who "cried" to get her way as he couldn't withstand a woman's tears. . . I still couldn't work up to tears even during our most intense disputes. I mean, the man gave me a "pass go, collect 200 dollars" card and I still couldn't bring myself to use it!

Of course I do cry. But no one ever sees me do it. When something of crying magnitude occurs I first seemingly shut down. Hence, my signature "stoic" nature. And by the way, thank you Dean of Student Affairs at my undergraduate university for officially giving me this title by including it in your report. I did a Freshman type thing and got blindingly drunk one weekend. However, I made the mistake of telling my RA that she was a "whore" when I was found puking in the dormitory lavatories. . . I woke up with the notice of being written up (put on report) practically taped to my forehead. My roommate was the one who faithfully recounted my verbal abuse of the RA to me as I had no recollection of either that or the previous 24 hours for the most part. (The verbal abuse was completely out of character by the way and the RA was the farthest thing from a whore. My drunken mind mirrored Othello's in transforming me into a beast.) Interestingly enough, despite being an English literature major, when the report from the Deans office arrived in my on campus mail box and I read, "student appeared stoic and showed no remorse for her actions." I had no idea what "stoic" meant. After consulting a dictionary I walked around for the rest of the day in a daze, repeating over and over again, "I wasn't stoic, I was scared!" But being too afraid of the Dean of Students I never went and explained my emotionless, frozen countenance to him. So stoic stuck on my student records.

I do remember being a little cry baby when I was very young. I remember crying over the nightly news a lot. When I was in the fourth grade I remember bursting into tears in the back seat of the family car--hysterical. When my father pulled the car over to investigate why I was crying and it came out that I was heartbroken over my older brother's intentionally callous treatment of my parents (he was giving them some "attitude" that morning on the way to church as going to church on that Sunday morning was the last thing that my then Junior High school aged brother wanted to do), I still remember the look of confusion on Dad's face. "whaaa?" Then Mom's confused face popped up over the back of her seat. "Honey. . . "

When I read parenting books about the difficulties of raising highly sensitive children I see those two befuddled faces peering at me over the back of the car seat on that Sunday morning.

I remember shortly after that, or maybe it was even at that moment, deciding NOT to cry over everything anymore. Apparently I succeeded, but at the same time I seem to have jammed the tear gate a bit. Pregnancy seems to have gone in and fiddled with it. So what do we have left? A 40 year old woman who still must be completely isolated in order to cry but who gets all choked up about. . . the two ravens who are trying to build a nest in the power cables in front of our house? (It is really sad to watch, no matter how many times the winds knock their efforts down they persist in trying to build the thing. Then last week when they had enough sticks up there to stay in place even during high winds the people next door called the utility people who came out and ruthlessly knocked the toaster sized stack of sticks down.)

I've taken to renting out right tear jerkers. Like the "Joy Luck Club" and "Steel Magnolias." Catharsis, catharsis, catharsis--I figure that if I can siphon off enough of these sentimental feelings maybe I can find my equilibrium again. Or do pregnancy hormones usually mess with women for this long? It couldn't be menopause could it? I recall acquaintances I knew who were menopausal sweating and fanning their faces in the dead of winter but I don't recall them breaking into squeaky voices and blinking back tears. . .

If this is a "female" thing than I'm going to add it to my list of things to do to punish bad male politicians: number 21--hormone shots. That will go right below number 20--forcing them to live together with political opponents and share the cooking and household duties between them. Which is just below number 19--attending Japanese PTA meetings with a cranky toddler in tow.



Sarah said...

Honestly, that was awesome! I laughed right out loud. I didn't cry though!

I have never been much of a crier, either. My sister has the gift of crying on demand - with tears - and I remember being so jealous of that gift when I was younger. My husband was so used to my non-crying that when I was pregnant and I cried out loud for no apparent reason it scared him!

Now my crying catches me by surprise all the time. I have to avoid reading certain children's books because the girls worry when I cry, although if you need a good cry I highly recommend "I'll Love You Forever".

montchan said...

Lady! I cried during "Lilo & Stitch" and "Finding Nemo". I ain't ever getting pregnant. ;-)

coarse gold girl said...

So Sarah,

Do you reckon it is the work of female hormones? DD#2 was watching Clifford the Big Red Dog this a.m. and the neighbor hood/ town built him a dog house--yup. alllllll choked up! I had to give up trying to read "I'll Love you Forever" at the pre school. . . could always bearly get through it! "No David!" --the last page was always gauranteed to choke me up!

I'm so glad you stopped by here as I got a chance to discover your blog and photo blog that way! Some of your pics on the photoblog are amazing! Lilo & Stitch is a huge hit here in our household and who wouldn't cry over things like "ohana" and poor little Nemo's mum getting eaten up?

Sheri said...

That same tear imbalance started affecting me, too, after my pregnancy! What is it!?
The worst is sometimes even songs that I listen to will make me cry!

Lily said...

Someone should research this. I too get all choked up, watery eyed at small things since becoming a mother.