At one point or another, I have used all these phrases to diminish the current way I’m feeling. I have programmed myself to minimize when something is bothering or has hurt me. This in turn, has taught and is teaching others that treating me unfairly is acceptable.
We mistake strength as masking our pain. We tell the people we love and the ones who love us, the pretty parts of us while we fail to admit the part of us that isn’t so sightly. This is not strength. This is explosion waiting to happen. Each time we offer the “I’m ok”, “I’m fine,” or “it’s cool” when we really aren’t, we are planting little bombs around us. And before we realize it is happening, destruction comes.
Where does this idea of hiding what we truly feel occur? Does it happen in the language our parents use when they tell us to be a big girl or boy? Does it happen when they tell us to get over it? Does it happen when they only allow us room to smile/laugh yet thwart our need to cry/scream?
A few weeks ago, my daughter finished kindergarten. The entire year, I had her enrolled in an after school program and understood she’d want to be there also. I made sure I picked her up closer to their closing time. And when I picked her up, I could immediately sense her sadness. On our drive home, she told me about her day and the friends who didn’t come to school because it was the last day. As she shared, I could see the somber look on her face as it hit her she would not be returning to that school after summer break. When we made it home, as she is accustomed to doing any other school night, she undressed to take a bath. Moments later, I could hear her upstairs sobbing. Heavy cries erupted from her small frame. I lingered downstairs unsure of how to respond. If I should even interrupt.
As parents we want to shield our kids from everything.
It wasn’t lost on me that this past year, she had experienced so much change. We moved. Far away. We gave away her cat. Replaced it with a dog. She’d lost the remaining of her teeth. She was no longer in dance class. Her dad was deployed for most of her school year. Her mom (yes, that’s me) was a mess. She had witnessed and felt all these things. And while some of them were good changes, it didn’t mean it didn’t hurt to go through them.
I distinctly recall telling her not to cry during some of these changes. I thought I was teaching her something valuable about strength. Thought I was presenting another way to look at things. Instead, she learned to internalize her pain and mask it around me. She waited until I would be at an event; then around her dad, she’d break down at the oddest times. They’d be playing and suddenly, there the waterworks were. The heaving sob that could rip her into two. The one I heard from downstairs on the last day of school. My child was learning to fake being ok (around me) until she could no longer do so.
I suspect she’s an empath. I see her feel things deeply. Her compassion towards others shows up constantly. During the school year, when she wanted me to walk her to class; there was a young girl about her age crying in the hallway. All the other children and parents too, including myself, moved about like rush hour on 14th Street. In our bustling about, we didn’t noticed the little girl, but of course, my daughter did. She stopped. Approached the girl slowly at first, and once she felt it was safe to do so, she embraced her, and asked if she was ok. In doing so, I saw tears form in her own eyes. She told the young girl it would be ok, and looked to me to do the rest.
It didn’t dawn on me until later that day, my daughter is the me before I let the world snuff out the parts that aren’t always accepted. She didn’t care about time in that moment. She cared about the person. Understood the girl needed to cry in that hallway, in that moment, and needed to be held.
I finally made my way upstairs after time had passed. When she noticed me from her tub, she straightened her posture and quickly attempted to remove any indication of her crying. My heart broke a little. In all the softness I could muster, I asked her what was wrong. She told me, she was ok at first. I told her it’s ok not to be. And I asked her again. She paused. Unsure of whether I was to be trusted with her current state. I waited. Patiently. When she opened her mouth to speak, tears ran down her cheeks, she spoke incoherently. I understood it all. She was too tired to fake it. Too much exploding around her to act unfazed. There were no words to share in that moment. I told her it’s ok to cry and let it all out. I returned downstairs.
I suppose it’s just like when the sky opens up and lets the thunderstorm release all of its pent up energy. My daughter howled. She didn’t need my permission but I knew it allowed her to grieve how she needed to because I didn’t tell her to get over it. I didn’t instruct her to stop being a baby.
Tears are a cleansing. They are needed. We have these emotional responses and unfortunately; society, our parents, our environment, etc dictate what is acceptable and what isn’t. We shun what we deem weak. We place emphasis on what strength looks like. This causes us to start a cycle of hiding. Of folding into ourselves. Of totally dismissing natural reactions until it eats at us and we turn to destruction.
When I went to check on her again, she talked. She articulated what she will miss. She tells me, she doesn’t want to leave her school. That she is sad she won’t see her teachers again. She is even more sad, she’ll have to leave her friends. What I understand from her is that she is tired of being strong (the way I taught her). She is tired of feigning happiness when she doesn’t feel that way. She hates all the changes and doesn’t feel stable. She needs to tell me that.
We think as parents, our kids’ emotions aren’t valid. We don’t understand they are concrete thinkers and when we introduce certain things in definite ways, they look at that paradigm and accept it. Even when abstract thought is developed, our agreement is so deeply ingrained, they continue the pattern, and perpetuate this belief that we are to dismiss any feeling that does not fall in line with what is perceived as strength.
These days, I still struggle to say I’m not ok. I still minimize my current situation. Not because I think it makes me look less capable, but because I’ve been doing it so long, it feels right. In this journey, this path, there are very intentional occurrences that unfold. It’s no coincidence that I’m a mother. No mishap that I see a therapist. No blunder that I’m a wife, a friend, a poet, mentor, etc. All of these things work in a way that provoke me to want better for myself and the people around me. This begins with me. In being honest. I don’t have to engage with anyone as to why I’m not ok. It’s absolutely fine to admit my current state and leave it there.
I encourage anyone reading this, to break away from the idea that we have to tell the narrative from a perspective that is aesthetically pleasing. The only way for a society to normalize what isn’t normal or to deviate from labeling something as anomaly, is to begin to live honestly and transparently. Again, I am not suggesting that we all go on and on about our problems to every person. I am saying however, when asked, be honest about your current disposition. Do not minimize it, because when you do, you’re teaching yourself and others that all emotional responses do not matter. May you find peace in this new agreement.