Monday, October 9, 2017

"You're Too Pretty To Cry," & Other Lies We Learn Young

I was speeding down the kindergarten lunch line, handing out student ID cards. It doesn't matter how much I organize that stack in the morning... They're never in the correct order by lunchtime. And since I was trying not to drop my lunch, spill my water, tip our class ticket cup, and scatter the cards all over the floor, I hardly looked at my students at all.

"Sweetie, what's wrong?" I heard the lunch lady ask at the other end of the line. And I must say... Even though I hadn't seen the little girl silently crying, I couldn't say I was really surprised. We have a meltdown at least twice a day, so it's best to take care of the problem quickly and move on. And because of this knowledge I gained on the third day of school, my teacher brain tuned in to the little girl's voice as she said, "My momma couldn't send me a dollar for lunch today."

Poor thing. I recognized the underlying problem immediately, for I work at a crisis school, where it is not uncommon for students to show up without a trace of lunch money. And somewhere along the line, someone told my kindergarteners that if they didn't have their dollar, they couldn't eat that day. Which, by the way, might have reminded two of them to bring their money, but told the other fifteen of them that if they didn't have money that day, they better steal someone else's or they won't get to eat.

Because the underlying problem is never really about the dollar. It's that my kids come from high poverty families and they are starving, because school is the only time of day they get to eat, and without their dollar, there is no food until they return the next day.

And so, I expected the lunch lady to say something like, That's alright, baby, you can still eat today! Or Don't worry sweetie, we'll get you something anyway. Perhaps even, You can eat today, just make sure you remember your dollar tomorrow. 

But no. Instead she said, "Oh sweetheart, wipe up those tears. You're too pretty to cry."


I was pretty sure the steam was about to explode from my ears. That didn't take care of the problem at all! I wanted to scream, In fact... You created ANOTHER ONE because you didn't want to deal with it!!! 

I dropped everything in my hands. I don't think I've ever crusaded down my line faster. I reached the little girl just as she was attempting to dry her cheeks. Her eyes were still watering, still full of tears that would have been shed. Her lip continued to quiver, and she could not breathe steadily. She still had a few scattered huffs. But she was fighting it. She was fighting hard.

I wrapped her in a hug and said, "Listen, honey. Just remember your dollar tomorrow okay? You have to pay for food at cafeterias, just like if you were at the grocery store, but they'll let you eat today. I promise."

She stood taller, rolled her shoulders back, and raised her head up. Had her lip not been quivering, and her eyes not been watering, her posture might have fooled you into thinking she was okay. But she wasn't.

"Do you need to take a break for a second?" I asked her softly. She nodded.

"Okay, just come right over here and take a minute for yourself," I told her, placing some tissues on the table in front of her, "You can get back in line when you're ready to eat."

She maintained her posture until she reached the table I had designated for her. She folded her arms out, lay her head down, and let it all loose. She cried / heaved / sobbed for a good ten minutes.

And then, it was the strangest thing. She sat up, dried her tears, blew her nose, smiled, and got right back in line. Not another sign of those tears all day.

"What on Earth!" the lunch lady exclaimed, "That little one of yours cries almost every day in here!"

"Because she needs to cry," I snapped a little too quickly, "And she's not too pretty to take care of herself."

She was lucky I stopped there and didn't launch into my soap box. That, however, is what my blog is for.

So here I am, friends! Hello, and welcome! To my readers, parents, teachers, coaches, and friends: It doesn't matter if you have a kid, are expecting one, or never want one in your life. It doesn't matter if you work with kindergarteners or work with teenagers. It doesn't even matter if you work in a cubicle and haven't encountered a child since your third cousin twice removed brought her baby to Christmas dinner five years ago.

We all have emotions. Adults, teens, and kids. I think that much is self-explanatory. I don't think anyone would dare to argue that statement. But adults and (for the most part) teenagers have learned ways to handle these emotions. Sometimes, our coping mechanisms are healthy, and sometimes they are not. That much is usually up for debate. But nonetheless, we have ways of handling these emotions we experience on a regular basis.

And some of us are more emotional than others. Some people can blow things off instantly. Others need a five minute "vent time" and then they're good to go. And then there's the friends (and we all have at least one) who will dwell on one scenario and emotion for several days straight.

Children don't know any of this. Not only do they not have a single clue on how to handle their emotions, they don't even know what emotions are! Feelings and emotions are very complex topics for a group of kindergarteners. They usually know whether or not they are sad, mad, or happy. But that's about it. They can rarely even tell you why they feel a certain way, unless they're angry. "I hit him because he called me names!" you might hear. But if you ask them why they are happy, they say, "I don't know. I just am." And if you ask them why they're sad? Yep. "I don't know. I just am."

What about emotions like excited? Nervous? Anxious? Stressed? Or what about i'm-too-poor-for-food-but-it's-a-monday-and-i-haven't-eaten-in-three-days?

They have no idea what these emotions are; what they feel like, or how to handle them. My little sweetheart in the front of my lunch line was nervous. Anxious. And scared out of her mind. Would she get to eat lunch that day? Would the lunch lady be mad at her for not having her dollar? Would anyone help her to make sure this never happened again? She didn't know. And she didn't know how to ask.

All she knew was that she needed to cry. Which is a perfectly healthy and recommended coping mechanism, by the way. Contrary to suppression as she was told she should do in order to "preserve her beauty." Forget that.

My little sweetheart knew her self-care coping mechanism (it was intrinsic and obvious to her), and she was beginning to use it. And then she was told that she was too pretty to cry, implying that she would not remain pretty if she let those tears slip. That she would no longer be pretty if she took care of herself. She knew how to meet her own needs, and she even knew how to meet them without the help of someone else, a feat not often conquered by a kindergartener. She knew that she needed to cry; and yet, she felt that she could not both take care of her needs and also remain a beautiful little girl.

This is not an uncommon statement for girls to hear. Boys, too. Boys, especially. Tears are weak. Tears are ugly. And you're either supposed to be a tough man or a strong, independent woman. This leaves no room for tears.

I feel that this is a good time to let you know that I probably cry at least once every other day. Sometimes daily. Because I have to admit, I cry as a coping mechanism for everything. 

Sad? I cry.

Happy? I cry.

Mad? I yell while I'm crying.

Stressed? You bet I'm cryin'!

Anxious? Hyperventilating and crying.

Scared? Overheating and crying.

When I was heartbroken from the worse breakup I ever had? Crying.

When I accidentally floored it backwards into a concrete pillar in a parking garage? Crying.

Crying, crying, crying. But it never lasts very long. Unless I'm trying to suppress it. 

As a little girl, I'm not sure where I got the notion that crying was bad. No lunch lady ever told me I was too pretty to cry (thank god, or I likely wouldn't have ever learned differently). Perhaps it was because my mom was a crier, too, but I rarely saw it. (I, too, now tend to hide my tears if I am in public or in the presence of people who do not know about my need for tears.) Or maybe it was because my dad was a real fix-it kind of guy, and he couldn't fix tears so I tried not to cry so he wouldn't feel bad. (He has since learned to leave the room until I'm finished and then crack a joke upon return.)

But recently, I began expressing this need vocally. "Seriously, guys, sometimes I just cry. It's my way of dealing with basically everything. If you can handle it, great. If not, just leave me alone for like five minutes and I'll come back out after and everything will be normal again." And though there was some skepticism at first, it didn't take people long to figure this out.

Now, after a long day, I can expect Dylan to ask how I am feeling. And if it was anything other than "fine," he usually sits with me for five minutes while I cry and vent about it and then we fix dinner. Or go to the park. Or go right on about our evening. He doesn't think a single thing of those self-care tears, anymore. And neither do I.

You are not too pretty to cry. You're not too strong to cry. You aren't too tough, or too independent, or too manly to cry. Whatever lie you've been told about tears is not true. In fact, if you let those tears go when you need them to, you are strong enough to take care of your hurting mind when the rest of the world seems to think less of you for doing so. And that is something to be admired.

And if you made it all the way to this point in the post and you're thinking to yourself, "Okay... I feel like I should feel more empowered by this, but I'm just not really a crier..." then good for you! Perhaps you know someone who is and you can encourage them. But even if that's not the case...

The point is, we are taught in some form or fashion that allowing ourselves to care for our mind is something we are to be ashamed of doing. Or we should at least be ashamed to do it in public. Because god forbid we offend anyone (because that never happens...) or make anyone uncomfortable. After all, to cry in front of others and make them slightly more uncomfortable might imply that we are inconsiderate; that it is our job to make sure others are more secure in this world than we are. That their comfort should be preserved at our expense. That because a lunch lady might not want to deal with us when we are hurting, it is somehow our duty to make sure our pain is sacrificed for their convenience.

You are not required to set yourself on fire in order to keep others warm. 

And we are not too pretty, too independent, too anything to lose composure for thirty seconds in order to let off a bit of whatever burden we are shouldering. But we are taught the opposite of this from such an early age.

And that's just one of the reasons we're so screwed up by the time we turn twenty. Because we learn the opposite of self care before we even complete our first semester of kindergarten.

2 comments:

  1. "You're Too Pretty To Cry," & Other Lies We Learn Young, a very great message is delivered through this post which is admirable and should be taken seriously.

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    1. Thank you so much. I'm glad you were able to get something out of it... We certainly take it seriously!

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