Let me introduce you to our newest contributor, Claire Zulkey – I’ve been a fan of hers for years, and am so excited to have her writing appear on RG. That said, I think it’s safe to conclude that when it comes to the topic of crying, she and I are different types of humans. – Jordan
When You’re The Mom That Doesn’t Cry
“Mommy, I decided you shouldn’t cry today.” That’s what my son told me on his birthday last week: the months prior, we had an ongoing joke where I threatened to cry on his fifth birthday and we talked about whether or not I should do it. This was inspired by me telling him about how vividly I remember my own mom crying on my fifth birthday; he decided that if he had the choice, he would rather not have a similar memory.
“Good,” I said. I was actually relieved, because if he did decide I should cry, I would have to pretend, because I was never going to cry in the first place.
I’m simply not a crier, although you can’t say I haven’t tried. On two separate group theater-going occasions in my life (“My Girl”; “Titanic”) I actively tried to make myself cry in order to fit in with my bawling friends. I really wanted to cry: it looked like a special thing to share together. But (spoiler alert) there was nothing in the fake death of MacCauley Culkin or Leo DiCaprio that was going to make me shed actual human tears.
It’s possible that I just plain used up all my tears during pregnancy and postpartum, when my eyes turned into faucets I had no control over. While I was pregnant with my first, the movie Working Girl came on TV. I started crying just thinking about its triumphant ending and how (another spoiler) Tess had no idea how good things were going to get for her. When I was pregnant with my second, on my birthday I insisted that I was too fat and tired to want to do anything to celebrate, and then that evening, home alone with my toddler, I cried in front of him over how sorry I felt for myself. Sometimes I would make myself cry over and over again via repeated viewings of the jailed mom scene from Dumbo or this Target commercial, to see if I could just get it all out. It never worked.
But my postpartum days are long gone now, and I can’t remember when I last cried. This isn’t really a problem, except that I am in the thick of what I sense is supposed to be a very weepy phase of motherhood. My oldest just turned five, and he’s entering kindergarten this week. I have first day of school butterflies, and I put some effort into making sure he had a great birthday, so I’m not entirely made of stone—but when it comes to feeling sad? It’s just not there.
It probably helps that our two-year-old son provides real-time reminders that while little kids are cuddly, they are also two-year-olds. Even though baby fat is fun to pinch, and toddler speak is adorable, parenting is easier and more fun now that we can actually communicate with our five-year-old. There has been no phase with him during which I thought, “I would rather go back.”
It’s not like I witnessed these milestones without some sort of wonder. It’s crazy to make a person, to have him be so dependent on me at first and then go form his own little world without me in the span of a few short years. It is a form of time travel as well: I flash back to when I started school, and have a new appreciation and curiosity for what my mom’s life was like when she was the age I am now. I can’t believe that my kid is five, except I can, because I was there for practically every single day of it. I felt all of those five years, but I’m also proud of what has come from them. But this doesn’t elicit tears.
My social media feed is full of proud parents tagging their kids’ back-to-school photos with things like #somethinginmyeye or #Imnotcryingyourecrying which takes me back to those movie-going years of trying to make myself cry in order to fit in with the crowd. Sometimes I even start to wonder, Do these parents want their kids to be babies forever? But I know deep down that internal eye roll is really just a defense mechanism, disguising my own concerns about what type of mother I am.
Does not crying mean I don’t cherish my children? Or that I don’t cherish them enough; possess that gene that sends water flying out of your eyeballs every time an old person stops you on the street to remind you that “It goes so fast”? I wonder if it makes me capital-S selfish that with every new milestone I’m like, “Good, that makes my life easier.” (Although, truly, who would you rather live with: a roommate who keeps you up all night every night, or one that can fetch you a cold LaCroix from the fridge?)
A friend of mine whose son recently entered college made me feel better about this when I mentioned my robot heart to her. “A healthy, growing kid who is doing new things is a blessing,” she said. And that is the perspective I choose to take. I’m not unemotional; I’m just celebrating. Not only were the earlier phases of my kids’ lives harder — I also knew less way back when. I may be older and my kids may be more independent, but experience makes the job easier. And that’s not something to cry about.
Claire Zulkey is a writer in Evanston, IL who lives online at Zulkey.com. She is the author of two books for young readers and produces the Chicago reading series Funny Ha-Ha.