Of all the things I thought my six-year-old would grow out of by now, Crying About Nothing sat at the top of the list. And yet, here we are. It’s another sunny day. And he is crying about nothing.
I don’t consider my son to be exceptionally sensitive. He’s not overly sympathetic or empathetic toward others (I mean, hear me out—he’s not a sociopath either; he’s just your average kid). I know sensitive kids can cry easily, but that’s not what is happening here.
He is crying because he wants a popsicle and we don’t have any.
He is crying because he wanted to go to the park and I said, “Not today.”
He is crying because we are doing a bath before dinner and not the other way around.
He is crying because he dropped his toy in the car and can’t reach it until we arrive at our destination.
Worth noting: my three-year-old also cries this often, if not more, over these situations and others more trivial. But he’s three and that’s what three-year-olds do. I expect the three-year-old to cry a lot.
The six-year-old—on the other hand—I am losing patience for.
Once a day, I find myself saying: “Everett: GET IT TOGETHER. Stop crying! You’re SIX!”
As if six is the magical age where suddenly children learn to manage their emotions and distinguish between cry-worthy disappointments and non-cry-worthy disappointments.
What is that magical age, anyway?
I distinctly remember the last time I threw a temper tantrum. It’s not because I have an excellent memory; it’s because I was 26 when it happened.
My friend and I had traveled to Liberia to visit her sister, who worked as a full-time missionary in the remote city of Yekepa. Both of us had toddlers and it was the first time either one of us had left them longer than a few days. The journey there was laborious to say the least—four flights followed by an eight-hour drive on an unpaved road. Have you ever been on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland? The one where the jeep jolts and jerks all over the place? The drive from Monrovia to Yekepa was kind of like that, only worse. Let’s just say I am a B cup on a generous day and had to hold my chest in place the entire time (while also trying very hard not to pee my pants as my pelvis flew violently on and off the seat for eight whole hours).
Naturally the eight hours there were easier than the eight hours back. By the end of the trip, my friend and I were desperate to see our babies, to hold them and kiss them and never let go, and to sleep in our own beds again. If the journey there was laborious, the journey back can best be described as tumultuous. The eight-hour drive over potholes and through rivers felt even longer and rougher the second time around. Out of food and out of money, we spent our final night splitting a couple of granola bars for dinner (it may have been a pop-tart; my memory is fuzzy). I felt more homesick than I’d ever been, equally craving my husband, my baby, a warm shower, and a cheeseburger.
The following morning our flight was cancelled due to a storm. Chaos ensued. We had no phone, no money, and weren’t sure we even had a place to stay that night. The miles between Africa and home seemed to quadruple as we stood outside the airport in the pouring rain making polite conversation with a couple of men who did not believe I was married.
I would like to state now for the record: I am not the kind of mom who cries when I am away from my children. I have no problem leaving them for a weekend with my girlfriends, or a vacation with my husband. I do not check in 40 times a day or insist on Facetiming throughout the trip. My husband is always the one pining for them, often wondering out loud, “What do you think the boys are doing right now?” while I sip my piña colada and mumble, “I don’t know, should we order more chips?”
Perhaps something is missing in my DNA; I have simply never been That Mom.
But I will say—on day 17 of the trip to Liberia—something in me shifted. I started to feel primal and almost possessed, like a lion ready to pounce. I felt trapped. Out of control. Helpless. My anxiety rose with every passing minute. Eventually, through a few miracles and answered prayers, we arranged a place to sleep for one more night, found a can of soup to share, and were en route to the States within 24 hours. I immediately felt at ease when we arrived in Paris. My debit card worked! We feasted on egg sandwiches at Starbucks like the most cliché Americans you’ve ever seen.
By the time we landed in Los Angeles, we were so close to home, I could taste it. But when they announced over the loudspeaker that our 60-minute flight to Sacramento had been canceled—the very last leg of our trip—I lost my damn mind.
In that moment, the lady at the desk wearing the stupid uniform with the blank look on her face was the thing standing in between me and my baby. I had not seen him in 17 days. This was unacceptable. I broke.
I can’t remember what I said, but I remember yelling at her with tears in my eyes. In the middle of an airport. Where people could see and hear me. I remember questioning how there could possibly be a thunderstorm in California in the middle of August, as if I held any expertise in weather patterns whatsoever. I was like a three-year-old throwing a tantrum in Target; I could not be reasoned with. My friend pulled me away to the bar, where we ordered drinks and peanut m&ms.
I had never felt so close to home, and yet so far away. Tears streamed down my face while I popped a handful of candy in my mouth, a poor consolation. The lady behind the desk was still within eyesight.
I wonder if she thought I was crying about nothing.
I’m 32 and my life is still filled with regular disappointments, both big and small.
I’m disappointed when there’s traffic, when my flight is delayed, when a restaurant offers me Pepsi instead of Coke. I’m disappointed when I wake up with a Texas-sized zit on my chin, or when my writing is rejected. I’m disappointed when the dishwasher breaks, when the pipe in the wall leaks, when the estimate to fix the car is three times more expensive than we thought it’d be.
I was disappointed when he became our president.
I was disappointed when that ten-year friendship abruptly ended in a single email.
I was disappointed when that pregnancy test blinked negative.
… and that one.
… and that one.
… and that one.
Because I am 32 and not six, I don’t cry when the restaurant offers me Pepsi instead of Coke. But I did cry for our country on November 9th, and I did shed a few tears over one of those negative pregnancy tests, and you better believe I cried for two straight weeks over that broken friendship.
There’s no getting around this truth: life is going to disappoint us, over and over again, and sometimes we are going to cry.
I don’t know when Everett will stop crying about toys and snacks, but I do know one day he’ll be crying about relationships and loss and other kinds of heartbreak. At age six, I tell Everett he doesn’t need to cry when we’re out of popsicles, because we can put yogurt tubes in the freezer instead. When he drops his toy in the car, I ask him not to cry because he’ll have it back in his hands by the time the song on the radio ends.
I can ask him not to cry because of one thing: I know what he doesn’t know. I know it will be okay in the end—that he will get to play again or eat again or do the one thing he’s convinced he needs right in that desperate moment, again.
Like so many things, parenting forces me to remember my own advice; because when it comes to disappointments, this remains true for all of us regardless of age: God knows what we don’t know. And He knows better. That’s not to say our disappointment isn’t real (it is!) and I certainly don’t want to pretend every closed door will lead to an open one because sometimes—despite our fervent prayer and best effort—the doors stay closed.
Still, I can’t help but notice a very real gift hiding in all of this disappointment: how else would we ever appreciate the glory of Heaven without knowing all the ways this world falls short?
This life on earth keeps us longing for the one we were made for. And with disappointments big or small, in the end, that hope is everything.