I walked up the chalk-filled path to the Listen to Your Mother rehearsal preparing for a day of tears. I knew hearing and processing the emotional stories of motherhood would be hard for me and hard to hide. I’m a crier.
The stories started and one after another, I cried. I left my hair down that day, knowing I would need my lengthy brown hair to shield my face as I shed an overabundance of tears at each new tale of motherhood. I connected myself to each story.
What if that happened to my mother?
What if that happened to my children?
What if that happened to me?
I cried during each story because I made the emotional struggle my own, I made all the stories about me.
The rehearsal ended and in complete denial, I believed I flew under the radar with my crying. One of the producers gently asked about my crying. “I have my period too,” I blurted out. Echoing another cast member’s rationale earlier in the day for crying. Laughs erupted and the attention on me diffused.
But I went home feeling embarrassed and foolish. Why couldn’t I control my tears? Then I did what everyone does when they need to solve a medical emergency (tear duct failure here, obviously). Google. So I Googled, “how to learn to not cry.” There were 141 million results. I wasn’t alone.
I clicked on the first result, wikiHow’s 4 Ways to Hold Back Tears. The article actually had some good advice: “Don’t aim to hold back tears on account of trying to seem tough or strong. Strong people do cry and are healthier for it.” There were also tips included: removing yourself from the situation, get enough sleep and distract yourself.
I started trying out the tactics. I told people that I was learning not to cry. Surprisingly, I wasn’t met with enthusiasm for curbing my emotional habit. Instead, they told me they wished they weren’t so stoic; they wished they could just let the tears go.
I went to the next Listen to Your Mother rehearsal and I jokingly told the cast member next to me that I was sitting in the back where I could hide and cry. But I didn’t. Okay I did cry, but I didn’t hide. I did give some thought to why I was crying. Was I crying because I let myself go down the rabbit hole and made the story about me? I cried twice. The other times when I found myself slipping and making the story about me, my kids or my own mother, I started to count the knots on the wood walls. Over and over I counted the knots. I let myself listen to the stories, respect and honor the gift she was giving to us.
I used to believe that crying was a sign of weakness but in my mid-thirties I’ve started to let myself cry. I cry in my minivan when my daughter stares down at me from the daycare goodbye window and I contemplate working outside the home. I cry when I read stories online about abused children. I cry at work when I listen to testimony about the number of homeless children in our schools. I cry when people stand in front of me with stories of heartbreak and loss. I cry when I don’t feel good enough or when I feel like I am failing as a parent, wife or worker.
I’m not ashamed that I cry. I’ve learned that crying makes me stronger and confident because I face my real feelings.
There are real feelings behind my tears and by crying I’m forced to see the realness in those feelings. Confronting these feelings has inspired me to ask for a part-time schedule at work in the summer, I’ve learned how to better communicate with my kids and husband and I’ve learned life is very unexpectedly short and we are continuously reminded of this fact.
I’ve learned that it’s okay to cry. But I’ve also learned how to respect and honor a story without my tears and without making it about me.
[bctt tweet=”I’ve learned that it’s okay to cry. But I’ve also learned how to respect and honor a story without my tears and without making it about me.”]
The Listen to Your Mother shows are taking place in 39 cities in 2015. Click here for a list of shows. I’ll be sharing my piece, Minivan to Motherhood at the Twin Cities show on May 7, 2015. You can buy tickets to the Twin Cities show here.