WARNING: As the title suggests, this blog post contains reference to explicit emotion. Those terrorized by expressions of sadness, frustration, or general overwhelm should proceed with caution. The author acknowledges that a number of her previous posts probably warranted and yet omitted this notification. For reasons both within and beyond her control, she cannot guarantee it won’t happen again. She wishes to assure readers that she’s nonetheless—for the most part, believe it or not—an agreeable and happy person.
I’m not a parent so you may be surprised to learn that I’ve developed a deep and abiding affection for Reasons My Son is Crying, a Tumblr that began as Greg Pembroke’s photo-and-caption chronicle of his sons’ emotional meltdowns. The triggers range from the understandable (he’s in a giraffe costume; it took me longer than 0 seconds to take his shirt off) to the somewhat inexplicable (I broke his cheese in half; I wouldn’t let him play with a dead squirrel).
Though come to think of it: Who doesn’t cry when someone breaks their cheese in half? Just sayin’…
In any case, it makes perfect sense to me that the site went viral shortly after its launch, tapping as it does into what seems a universal experience shared by caretakers of little humans. I don’t subscribe to the opinion of some critics that Pembroke is trivializing his children’s emotions or suggesting that sadness and frustration are their always-on states. And neither do thousands of other parents: soon after the site went live, people from around the world began sending Pembroke pictures of their own crying children, the best of which he compiled into a book.
BUT. Why do I, a single, childless woman living in Mongolia, like this site so much? Well, I hate to admit it, but right now…I relate to the toddlers.
If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that while my time in Mongolia has had its ups and downs, year one was really Pretty Damn Manageable. To the degree that I was starting to wonder if—leave it to me to pathologize being happy—I was having a ‘legitimate’ Peace Corps experience. Back in May, when a number of volunteers posted to their blogs about the oft-discussed Mid-Service Crisis, I was posting about gratitude and wondering if I was going to skip this particular trough in the Typical Emotional Pattern of a PCV.
Nope. Turns out I was just late to the party.
I don’t know if it’s the come-down after the high of working on the Village-to-City project, or re-entry stress after eighteen glorious days in America, the land of avocados and tumble dry, or simply that it had to happen to me (again) sometime. All I know is that right now, there are so…many…emotions.
Things that have saddened/frustrated me in the past month range from the somewhat reasonable to, honestly, the downright dumb. A few reasons this PCV might (sometimes, not always, and certainly never in—well OK maybe that one time in public but only that one time in public) be on the verge of tears:
- I drank the last of my good coffee.
- The ATM confiscated my card without giving me cash…and the bank closed fifteen minutes ago.
- Someone cut in front of me in line, again, and no matter how often this happens (every day) I can’t seem to find my Zen with it.
- I went to the countryside and now all my clothes smell like goat meat.
- People won’t leave me alone.
- People are leaving me alone….and now I feel left out.
- It’s a bad hair day. Not that there’s anyone around who’d notice if it were a good hair day.
I know it sounds ridiculous. After all, I’m not dealing with divorce or parental loss or catastrophic illness or abuse or addiction or poverty…or, or, or. For the most part, my frustrations have simple solutions. And funny enough, maybe with the exception of the goat meat, none of these challenges is particularly exclusive to Mongolia. They’re problems I could have faced any day in America. So why do I suddenly feel like a toddler in a grown woman’s body?
I think for two reasons.
First, because it’s not really about the coffee or the bankcard or the smell of goat meat. (It’s almost never about the coffee or the bankcard or the smell of goat meat.) It’s about feeling like I have less control over my life. It’s about unpredictability and in some cases loss—of people or things that I’d come to depend on during my first year of service. A site mate returning to the States, teachers leaving my school, a changing friendship or social dynamic, even the novelty of Mongolia wearing off. These things leave me unmoored, no matter how temporarily. It’s not so much that my cheese got cut in half, it’s that the world is suddenly different than I was counting on it to be. There have been little heartbreaks along the path that need time to heal.
Second, I have fewer distractions here. In the States, I had work and friends and family and TV and shopping and restaurants and eighteen million other things to keep me preoccupied every minute of every day should I so choose. In Mongolia, as much as I’ve waxed on about the goodness of slower living and the luxury of time, sometimes being alone with my thoughts is the absolute worst.
But that’s perhaps as it should be. I love this passage from The Places that Scare You by Pema Chödrön:
We are told about the pain of chasing after pleasure and the futility of running from pain. We hear also about the joy of awakening, of realizing our interconnectedness, of trusting the openness of our hearts and minds. But we aren’t told all that much about this state of being in-between, no longer able to get our old comfort from the outside but not yet dwelling in a continual sense of equanimity and warmth.
Anxiety, heartbreak, and tenderness mark the in-between state. It’s the kind of place we usually want to avoid. The challenge is to stay in the middle rather than buy into struggle and complaint. The challenge is to let it soften us rather than make us more rigid and afraid. Becoming intimate with the queasy feeling of being in the middle of nowhere only makes our hearts more tender. When we are brave enough to stay in the middle, compassion arises spontaneously. By not knowing, not hoping to know, and not acting like we know what’s happening, we begin to access our inner strength.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to spend time with a friend’s five year-old. Like me, he feels his emotions very, very deeply. Also like me, he may have a slight problem with impulse control. 🙂 This particular afternoon, his father was leaving to run errands, and he desperately wanted to go with him. He didn’t want to be left behind and when he was, even though his father would only be gone a few hours, he was inconsolable. His sorrow started as a quiet whimper but quickly unfurled into a full- body tantrum. He chased after his father, clung to his leg, ran after the car. Once the car was out of sight, he threw himself to the ground, howling through tears. Finally exhausted, he grew quiet for a few moments before rising up again, orchestral in the tantrum’s second movement. It was astounding. It was performance art.
In the past, I might have observed from afar and thought, C’mon now, kid…get it together. But on this particular day, as his little body collapsed into my lap, my thought was something new. It was: I hear you, buddy. Me too.
POST SCRIPT: As a public service—again, so as not to terrorize those disturbed by images of extreme emotion (or unattractiveness)—I’ve chosen to refrain from supporting this blog post with photographic images of me crying or otherwise breaking down. (You’re welcome.) That said, if any of you would like to submit a picture of yourself crying or otherwise breaking down, along with a brief explanation of what triggered it, that’d be awesome. You can post a link in the comments below or the actual picture to twitter. I don’t have a book deal at the moment, but a photo gallery update to this page is totally doable.
In the meantime, peace, and thanks for reading all the way to the end.