Emotional Eight

I’m sitting on the couch with Flora curled up in my lap, her tear-stained face crushed against my chest. I’m not sure what she’s crying about—she does not want to tell me. I’m not sure she remembers what she is crying about, now. But this much I’ve learned from by Emotional Eight—as I watched her struggle from Inarticulate One to Tormented Two to Traumatic Three, Fragile Four to Ferocious Five, Struggling Six to Sensitive Seven—all she needs from me now is quiet acceptance. All she needs is for me to hold her. All she needs is for me to shut the fuck up.

It’s hard, it’s so hard. To not say anything, you know? To not press. To not find out. To not offer a solution. To not—repress. To not say, “It doesn’t matter.” “Why on earth are you crying about that?” “Get a grip, get some perspective.” So hard.

I hold my Emotional Eight a little tighter.

“I’m calming down,” she whispers.

“Good,” I whisper back.

“I’m so sad,” she says.

“It’s all right,” I say. And that’s so hard for me too. To give her permission to be sad, to feel, to suffer. I rarely grant myself that permission. Flora’s the child of mine who I feel I fail, if not quite constantly, than certainly more often than her brothers—and it’s because she feels, she feels so fully and so acutely, and she’s been cursed with a mother who has severe intimacy issues.

(You, reader-who-knows-me-only-from-my-writing, I see you scoffing. You’ve perhaps told me that you read me because I’m so naked, raw, honest? Lies, all lies. I am a competent writer. That means I control the narrative. You see only what I want you to see. And, you, reader-who-knows-me-in-real-life, that glimmer, glimpse of what’s behind the curtain? I meant for you to see it. I’m that manipulative—and that skilled.)

Flora is my opposite: so open, so vulnerable, so transparent. It terrifies me, because oh-god, will she suffer. Suffers. And every time she is torn open, every time she feels too much—I need to combat my desire to arm her, repress her, wall her off, turn her into me.

Because, you know, she is such a gift. It is people like her—not people like me—who will save the world. So I hold her. Say nothing. And later, when she is calmer and the immediacy of the wound recedes into the past, discuss coping strategies that may protect her—help her react and process—but not wreck the power, depth and fullness of feeling that make her who she is.

I so suck at this.

So thoroughly.

But. I try. I keep on trying. And when I know I’m absolutely failing… I call in her Dad.

(Do you want to deconstruct with me what I’ve done here? How I’ve played you? I dare you. Do it.)

Crying emoticon

29 thoughts on “Emotional Eight

  1. I can relate a bit, because even though I was more emotional in my youth, I have learned how to hide my emotions well at this point in my life, but I see how both my girls at this point in their life’s wear their hearts on their sleeves. I, too, just try my best and you all else fails you are right I bring my husband into the fray!!

  2. I reply on the front of writing, of that word magician’s curtain management, for while I don’t have sensitive children or any children at all, I do have words and readers, and I do dare to deconstruct.

    I find it a comfort to remember that, whether they know it or not, readers usually read to be played. To get an emotional high, a vicarious hit of feeling. I read to be played. I write, in part, to give others the pleasure of being played like a fiddle in competent hands. (At least, I pray my hands are competent.)

    My vulnerability is also very deliberate, very calculated. I think I wrote a post that touches on this recently, That Sneaky, Sneaky Truth, or something. And I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

    Because we’re so aware. We’re so aware of what we say, that anything we reveal will be calculated; we can’t help our craftiness, our cunning in manipulating our words to manipulate our readers. (Remember, that’s what the readers want.)

    What I try to do to keep from being too much of a master–too much in control–is to share the things that scare me. Post what I fear to post, post it with all the cunning wordcraft, post it with a flow that plays the readers as ever, but post it also with fear. Because now, even while the readers are in my hands, I’m putting myself in their hands, too. Now, however cleverly and deliberately, I have left myself open, and I tremble.

  3. Jane, first of all, great post! I just sat here thinking for quite a bit. I’m sure that is what you want your readers to do and that is something that I hope to get away from blogs when I read them. Something that makes me think, inspires me etc. My daughter is very similar to your Flora. I often wonder what is the best way to approach things no matter what my personality is. I wish we all had a crystal ball and could see if what we are saying and doing is harming or helping. Some days I feel like all of my kids are going to need therapy…other days I have hope that they are all going to turn out okay!

  4. Ah, I am the emotional one in this household, so I (sometimes) secretly like those moments when my daughter has a mini-breakdown and just wants to be held. Sounds like you are doing a great job in giving her what she wants. Keep up the good work! And when you’ve had enough, send her my way. I can always do with a good hug!

    • I do plan to rely on a village of aunties an awful lot when she hits her teens. “Mommy will give you condoms and drive you to bars and pick you up at 5 a.m. where ever you are. You want to talk about how he broke your heart? Go talk to Auntie N…”

  5. I feel like I’m going to disappoint you by writing this (is that weird?), but you had no chance at maintaining your walls when you had kids. You may handle Flora, and emotions in general, differently than the hug-it-out kind, but your heart hurts for her something fierce and a person can’t get much more open than that.

    And I love this line: It is people like her—not people like me—who will save the world.

  6. you so do not suck!! you are an amazing mother and just like all the rest of us theres no manual, your gorgeous girl wanted a hug with her lovely mum, thats gotta count for something! xxxxxxx

  7. Do you think they will ever know how much we invest in our silent responses? ❤ I often think of all the times my Dad seemingly did or said nothing and now I know that really he was doing the most. I struggle with the whole idea of stopping myself from assisting (sometimes intentionally – sometimes not) in their wall erecting too. But from the flipside. I am the emotional one. And I see a little bit of me in both 2. And when I feel something so deeply I find it hard not to show it because I am afraid if I do, they will become softies and get hurt. I feel all emotions intensely though – so the same goes with the "negative" ones. It's a fine line that I often teeter back and forth on. I grew up thinking those emotions were separate from who I am and who I needed or even wanted to be. And then with the 80's feminist movement, if I wanted to succeed I was supposed to abandon them. In both my kids, especially k, I just want her to be whoever she is and be happy with that and not try to change it for anyone – and that might be a pink fairy princess who loves to take care and help others and cries at the drop of a hat or over spilled milk, but that's who she is and it's beautiful. Or it might be big K kicking ass in hockey but then cries if they lose or be the first to help a friend if they get hurt and wouldnt that be beautiful. Thanks for sharing ❤ I love hearing your voice in your writing!

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  9. I have just one child – a son who is both his father and myself – a little more like me which is a blessing and a pity. As a kid he was a climber of all things tall, a monkey boy who could leave no statue, no tree, no fence unscaled. I am terrified of heights, terrified more that my child should die. And yet, I let that boy climb.

    p.s. A good writer reveals the truth in the tale that is relevant and nothing more. Perhaps parenting requires the same skill, in which case you suck less than you imagine.

    • Re: PS, true, so true. I would say that is the difference between a competent writer who tells a story clearly and a good writer who tells the story as it must be told. It’s all about leaving things out, really…

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