Hindsight Parenting: Have No Fear of Feelings
When I was 9, while eating dinner in a fancy restaurant with my parents and sisters, an elderly woman at another table began to choke. The two men seated with her stood up quickly and one grabbed her around her middle to perform the Heimlich maneuver (although at the time, I didn’t know that was what he was doing). There was quite a lot of commotion surrounding the scene; silverware clanking on dishes, women gasping, and chairs scraping, but I couldn’t seem to take my eyes off of the poor woman’s face. She was so clearly suffering, and so terribly full of fear. In an instant, her fear seemed to wash over me and I began to panic as well. My body started to shake. I felt the familiar sourness of nausea. My hands trembled and my armpits prickled with sharp needle-like jabs. I was overwhelmed with dread and turned to my mother who was standing across the table from me. I appealed to her with the only word that my dry lips could form, “Mommy?”
There was a lot of meaning in that single utterance…Mommy can we help? Mommy I am scared. Mommy I don’t like how fearful I feel. Mommy will it be ok? Perhaps because she was feeling just as scared, or maybe because she didn’t have any answers to those invisible questions, she responded with a scolding “Logan, don’t start!!”
Don’t. Start. I remember feeling as if someone had smacked my face at the time, but if truth be told, it did quiet me outwardly. Although inside I was truly terrified not only for the woman who by then had coughed up whatever she had choked on, but also because of the depth of the fear that I felt though feeling deeply was nothing new for me. It happened all the time. I cried for hours after Bambi’s mama died feeling the loss as if every fiber and skin cell had suffered a great tragedy. I had to stop reading Nancy Drew books because of the anxiety I’d feel every time she’d get into a predicament, and sometimes I was so sad for seemingly no reason that I’d hide in a dark corner of our basement where no one ventured behind the Christmas decorations and boxes of winter clothing until my crying and the bleakness subsided enough for me to show my face.
But what was new on that fateful choking day was a not-so-fleeting thought. When my mother said, “Don’t start!” I realized that she must have been expecting a certain response from me…as the words “don’t start” would indicate. But also because those two words were said with such disdain I, for the first time of many times over the years, deduced (erroneously) that my reactions to fearful, sad, emotion-filled moments must not be the norm, must be bothersome. Feeling deeply must be abnormal.
So, for awhile, well into adulthood I was honestly ashamed and irritated beyond measure that God had made me–well the way that I was–a crybaby, a panicker, scared…a fragile bird. I hated that I felt so deeply. Even when the responses came from a thing of beauty or an offering of happiness, I tried so desperately to quell my tendencies to react with a fervor of feeling.
Happily, I don’t think that way anymore. I have long learned that what seemed normal or rational as a child was the farthest thing from reality. I have in fact embraced my sensitivity. Being sensitive is what makes me who I am; someone who strives on a daily basis to improve, a writer who notices the most minute life details, a philosopher who searches for meaning in the most mundane places. Yes…I am completely comfortable in my sensitive skin and I was never more happy about that than I was this past Sunday.
My daughter Ila, her dad and I went to see Disney’s Cinderella. And from the moment it began the beauty, the craftsmanship, the clothes, the sentiments, the camera work was a blitz to my senses and sensitivity. I wept happy tears and sad tears and all kinds of in-between tears at the sheer artistry that enveloped the audience. At the end of the movie, as the credits were rolling, I flicked the last tear from my cheeks and tried to pull it together before the lights turned on. But much to my surprise, my daughter stood up and moved in front of me. Her face was twisted. Her chin quivered. Her mouth opened and shut unable to form a sound let alone words.
In that moment, I recognized myself in the trembling, in the quaking, in the choked-up-to-the-point-of-silence way she had about her. I plopped back down in the movie seat, opened my arms to her, tilted my head and nodded. “I know,” I said. “I know…” In an instant, she had crawled into my lap and buried her head into my chest. She wrapped her arms around my torso and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. I rubbed her back and shushed her giving her a chance to get it out, to get it all out. As the rest of the audience walked by they clucked and wondered out loud, “Why is she crying? It was a happy ending!” But I didn’t wonder. I knew. After a lifetime of the deepest feelings, I was finally able to not only recognize it in myself, but in my daughter as well, and it struck me that I needed to let her in on what took me years to find out.
Later, when we arrived home, a still weepy Ila and I retreated to my bedroom rocking chair where we snuggled and rocked and she cried a bit more. When she grew quiet I whispered, “Do you want to hear about a secret thing that you and I share?” She tilted her head up to look in my eyes and nodded. “It’s a magic word this thing we have–it’s called sensitivity. Can you say that?” She whispered the word back to me and waited for more. I continued, “Sensitivity means that you and I feel so deeply about things that others might not feel at all. Do you know what I mean?” She blinked her eyes–clearly unsure.
“Sensitive means that during the movie, Cinderella, the scenes about Cinderella’s happy family when she was young were so beautiful that it made me cry as hard as I did when Cinderella’s mama died.” Here, Ila had a look of distinct recognition in her eyes and nodded furiously.
“And when I was little, I used to think that being sensitive meant that I was weird…or different.” She continued her furious nodding. “But now…I know that I wouldn’t trade my sensitivity for the world. And I certainly wouldn’t trade yours. Not ever. You want to know why? Because it’s your sensitivity that helps you hear the chords in those Beatles songs you love. It’s your sensitivity that makes it so you know when one of your friends are hurting or needs some attention. It’s your sensitivity that makes you the best pet owner ever. It’s your sensitivity that makes you sigh at the beautiful language in your favorite picture books and it comes through in the way you always seem to know what Daddy and I are thinking.”
Ila snuggled into me and a bit of a smile parted her lips, but I could tell that she wasn’t quite buying all of it yet. So I decided to impart a lesson, the most important lesson, that I just recently learned. I nuzzled my nose onto the top of her velvety ear and breathed the words into her so that they’d float effortlessly into the part of her mind that holds forever-thoughts.
“Be proud of who you are Ila because here’s the thing–God made you and he doesn’t make mistakes.”
[Photo credit: (cc) Shelia Dee]
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Logan has lived in Glens Falls, NY all her life. By day, she is an educator with 20 years experience, a mom to Aidan and Gannan, her two teenage boys, a new mommy to a beautiful daughter, Ila, and wife to the love of her life, Jeffrey. By night, weekends and any spare time she can find, Logan writes. She loves memoir and also adores writing essays about the challenges of parenthood. Logan writes a parenting blog called A Muddled Mother, an honest place where mothers aren’t afraid to speak of the complications and difficulties that we all inevitably experience. Logan has been published in various children’s and parenting magazines including Today’s Motherhood, Eye on Education, Faces, and Appleseed. Logan’s previous column for Hilltown Families, Snakes and Snails: Teenage Boys Tales ran bi-monthly from June 2010-Feb. 2011, sharing stories of her first time around as a parent of two teenage boys. — Check out Hindsight Parenting: Raising Kids the Second Time Around every first and third Tuesday of the month.