Babies and small children cry--it's what they do when they need something. It's normal and expected....up to a point. I won't even get started on how many people tell you not to pick up your child when she's crying, because they need to "cry it out" or "self-soothe" or whatever crap is happening at the moment. That's not where I want to go with this right now. I will say that you as a parent just basically gotta go with what your gut says. Pick her up. Let her cry. Depends on the moment, right?
But when child reaches a certain age, when they decide (another way to say "when they notice other people and want to please them") that it is better not to cry about something that upsets them, when they've figured out another way to get what they want or need, when things that used to bother them don't bother them as much, or they've figured out another way to express their frustration or anger (also another blog...), they don't cry as easily or often.
I've actually had a first grade teacher tell me my daughter needed to "get a tougher hide". Regardless of all those internet memes that say we need to make the world a gentler place, I'd say it was particularly useless advice. My hopes for a gentler world are pretty faint, and I just don't think making my child "tougher" is going to work.
I now have a 17-year-old who wears her emotions pretty close to the surface, and is quick to tears under some situations. Since she was fairly young, her tears changed from "I'm hungry, I need a diaper changed, I have a tummy-ache" to "I am hurting somewhere I can't figure out where" and "I am psychically wounded". I know, all children feel this, and some respond with tears at some point. And I don't discount the hurt that a tween girl feels when a boy she likes acts like a jerk (perhaps an alternative definition of "tween boy" is "clueless jerk"). But I've always known that my child's tears are deep-rooted and come from a very hurt place. It's why it's so hard for me not to cry when she does.
We just endured her last IEP meeting (bureaucratese for a bunch of adults in a small room dissecting your child's issues and difficulties as if she were a specimen, all the while she is sitting there listening and then expected to be rational and happy we are all so concerned...okay, I know that's bitter, and they're all good people who want to help and I DID ask for, no....BEGGED for the help, but still...). That was Monday. I won't go into details. We have done this now four times. I think. Maybe more. It's required if she is to receive the help she needs. And from which she has benefited enormously over the last four years.
It was a strange trip to even get the help. My child is, not to sound like I'm exaggerating, massively gifted. I mean GIFTED. Not "isn't that cute she plays the piano so well for a 12 year old" but "Oh my God how did we end up with this?" gifted. Learning to read before she was 3, and knowing words seemingly by osmosis gifted. Other kids looking at her like she's an alien from planet Brain when she was five gifted.
So when she had weird speech disfluency (I didn't know that word then, just that she couldn't get words out and repeated herself almost obsessively) starting I don't even remember when, and when she was unhappy and in tears just talking about trying to take part in groups at school in 6th grade, I asked a wonderfully talented woman I know, who also happens to be a speech therapist and mom to listen to her and talk with her when she was coaching the after-school girl-power program my daughter was in. She came back to me and said "Oh, yes, she needs some help and we need to get her staffed" That was after asking the actual school therapist and psychologist and her teachers to give me some feedback and maybe make some suggestions, and getting, you guessed it---ZIP! No, wait, not quite zip. I got "but that's just Lindsay--she's so individual and smart and we don't want to change who she is!" I wish I could say I thought "Oh, you don't want to change the fact that she gets left out of group discussions with her peers because they think she's weird and won't wait for her to get out what she wants to say? And that it makes her disfluency worse?" But I just went...oookaaay...and thought "am I crazy?"
So finally when my friend became speech therapist at Lindsay's school (THANK YOU LORD!) she and I got the ball rolling. Hmmm...maybe a better analogy would be we got the two-thousand-pound garbage scow inching out into the current. With turtles pushing.
But by the end of eighth grade, we had a document, an amazing, 10 page or more slug of paper that said Lindsay had SOMETHING we could hang a name on. Better yet, the school, the state and the Feds could look at and go "oh, well, if she has THAT, then we can DO something!" Don't get me started on how EVERY child needs this kind of attention. I'm just happy mine got her little slice of the pie.
Even then, we had ostensibly trained educators still playing with passive aggressive behavior and "forgetting" or being too busy to get to state mandated meetings to present and approve the paperwork that would get my child "staffed" finally, and get her connected with people who could begin to explore what would help her. These teachers seemed to look at me with sad eyes and say "but it's just Lindsay, and the other kids know her and accept her and we don't want her to change". Again with the "huh?" Half of my head was exploding, knowing she needed something, anything, and that Ruth (speech therapist) had confirmed it, and that these people were NOT the experts in this. The other half of my head was saying "my child is normal, I don't want her to be labeled, I think these guys have a point, they see her with her peers, I am SOOO not the expert here, they are TEACHERS for God's sake..."
One day I sat in Ruth's office, just before the end of Lindsay's eighth grade year, and she asked me about high school. I completely lost it and wailed "I feel like I'm just throwing her to the wolves!" I hated the thought of her, so small, so young, so, so, so DIFFERENT with that seething mass of hormonal half-wit almost-men and almost-tramps. Oh God.....
As it turned out, high school was so much better than middle school. They always say that, but who knew? There were even more "weirdoids" (the name her group of geeky-smart kids took unto themselves in 6th grade) in high school. And they weren't the stoners, they were all kinds. Pretty girls, sweet boys, girly-girls and tomboy girls. What they had in common was that they were all smart and completely accepting of each other. I won't even get into how impossible that would have been when I was in high school, oh....a zillion years ago...
But back to the crying thing.
Among all the people who have helped her in high school, several have been notable for understanding that when Lindsay cries it is from a deeply confused place of psychic conflict. Some girls cry when they "need to", they manipulate boys and parents and teachers with tears. They can turn the faucet on and off. Some are authentically hurt by a fickle boyfriend or girlfriend. But by high school it is pretty rare that girls cry much EXCEPT when they want to. Call me cynical, and tell me I'm wrong...but I don't think I am.
In the IEP meeting we had (it stands for Individual Education Plan, by the way) Lindsay held it together for the first time. It was a watershed moment, though I know that it took effort on her part. She was close. She knows some coping things now. I'm not really sad that she can use that kind of self-control, though I am not sure if the effort is harmful or a good thing.
In past meetings, she has gotten through the first 30 minutes or so of people talking about her, and in fact, what they say is mostly how wonderful she is, how crazy-smart she is and how lovely her soul is. That's in some ways what she has the most trouble with. I don't really know why, but it just goes deep with her, when people show her compassion and care. I think it's a little overwhelming that eight adults are in a room with express purpose of dissecting and discussing her. She feels it and it goes right to her emotions held close under her skin.
Some very kind and truly lovely people in that room noticed. They saw it as a victory, not only for Lindsay, but for them. I want to give credit to my astonishing young lady who has benefited from their help, not so much because they are good (they are, mostly) but because she understood very well what they were trying to do and that it would never happen without her effort.
I wish I could say to her first grade teacher that it's not as easy as "toughening" her up. It's also not as easy as making the world a nicer, gentler place. It's maybe just fighting through all the moments, finding the ways a child who can understand world conflict and the pain of children who are shunned because they are autistic and "weird" can figure out how she can make peace with her own emotional nature.