Sarah R. Callender


In General, Parenting on February 5, 2012 at 8:00 am

I never thought I’d have a crybaby for a son. I thought I might have a redheaded son. A son who loved to read. A son who adored musicals and the Mariners. A son who laughed when I used my Julia Child voice to narrate my dinner-making. But crying? Why would I have a crybaby, especially a crybaby son?

As a new mom, I figured it was just the colic. And the acid reflux. As a wee, flop-headed newborn, Buddy was the hard-bodied king of crying, his belly a taut six-pack from hours of core-tightening hysteria. He’d cry throughout the day, then cry throughout the night. To the point where, in the early months, I almost stopped hearing it. Maybe like how people living in Carmel or Santa Barbara eventually stop hearing the ocean.

Except for those times when I did still hear it, those middle-night times, when the sheer sound of Buddy’s inconsolability shredded my already-feeble sanity. And I would lay my red-faced, swaddled raison d’être on the couch, whisper-yelling, “Please shut up! Just please shut up!” as I hovered over him, my face inches from his.

OK. So maybe Buddy’s crying wasn’t exactly like living in Santa Barbara.

But that was just the colic, I reassured myself. And the acid reflux.

So I waited, reminding myself of the single consolation prize I had read somewhere: colicky babies often turn into bright kids. Whoop-de-doo!

But when Buddy finally seemed to outgrow the colic, the acid reflux, all the physical explanations for his sadness, he was still a crybaby. And I didn’t care if he was the next Einstein. I didn’t care if he grew up to speak six languages and win Nobel prizes for Theories of Irrelativity. I just wanted a kid who didn’t cry all the time.

Yet as Buddy got older, his crying just grew wetter. And louder. As a pre-schooler, the proverbial spilt sippy-cup of milk sent him into a puddle of his own sadness. The smallest, most inane-looking playground knee scrape created a hysteria that suggested he had just severed his own limb with a chainsaw. When I cut his burrito wrongly? The neighbors likely thought I had sprayed acid in his eyes. And ¡ay carmaba!, when Buddy dropped a Lego piece into that rail on the minivan’s floor, the rail that allows the seats to slide together and apart, the rail that serves as the final resting place for Goldfish crackers, Starbucks straws and yes, Lego pieces, Buddy was reduced to a yammering, milk-livered moldwarp on the floor of the minivan.

OK, I told myself, maybe there’s a reason he cries so much. So I experimented. For a few weeks, I showered his wails with the devotion of, I don’t know, a really devoted mother who wins mothering awards. And when that did exactly nothing to change the volume or the frequency of his crying, I spent two weeks virtually ignoring the poor kid, giving him barely a “Be a man, kid! Shake it off!” in response to his tears.

Of course, ignoring my crying child also proved problematic, largely because of Other Moms. One day at the park, Buddy bumped his shin on the merry-go-round and crumpled into a shrieking mess that led Other Moms to believe he had been attacked by a swarm of killer bees. I downplayed it, giving him only a “You’ll be fine!” thumbs-up from across the way while Other Moms rushed to his aid.

“I just don’t get it!” I remember telling my husband during one of those romantic nights out where we find ourselves chatting about sexy topics: our children, our children’s teachers, our children’s college savings plan. I dipped a sweet potato fry into a ramekin of mayo, shrugging. “Seriously. He cries over everything. It’s ridiculous. And it’s embarrassing. You should see the looks I get from Other Moms when he does that severed-limb thing. Buddy’s ridiculous, all that crying over nothing.”

“Ridiculous,” my husband agreed.

My husband is very agreeable. Just ask anyone.

But then, the smallest shadow of a smile passed over his lips.

“It’s not funny!” I said. “It’s light years from funny. You’ll see precisely how unfunny it is when his classmates start beating him up. Because they will. Kids beat up crybabies.”

Agreeable husband nodded, this time keeping any flicker of a smile from his face.

“It’s just that he should have grown out of it by now, his disproportionate reaction to even the dumbest things!”

“Hmmm,” my husband said. “As disproportionate as someone crying when Katie Couric’s husband died? Someone who doesn’t even know Katie Couric?”

My eyes narrowed. I set down my margarita. “Katie Couric’s an Everywoman. Women cry when sad things happen to an Everywoman.”

“Yes,” my husband said, his voice patient.

My husband is so patient. Just ask anyone.

“But who cries in the first scene of The Sound of Music?” he said. “Who cries at church whenever she hears kids singing?”

I picked up my margarita an inch off the table, only to thunk it right back down. “Who doesn’t cry when she hears little kids singing church songs? And anyway, this is about him, not me. This is about how extreme he is, zero to sixty in 2.2 seconds. He freaks out over nothing, then it’s over, passing like an eight-second hurricane. And,” I lowered my voice, “Other Parents think there’s something wrong with him. Wrong with us, like we’re raising a crybaby.”

Agreeable Patient Husband nodded. Then took a slow sip of margarita. Set down his glass and leaned back in his chair.

“You know why I married you? I knew you wouldn’t let me get boring, that you wouldn’t let me turn into someone I didn’t want to be. It’s great that Buddy has it too . . . your passion.”

I crossed my arms. Did my raised-eyebrow, thin-lips expression. “You’re saying I gave this to him? I made him this way?”

And then, when my sweet, highly-astute husband nodded, I burst into tears.

So here’s the whole truth and nothin’ but: I did cry way back when Katie Couric’s husband died. And I do cry during the intro scene of The Sound of Music, when Maria is spinning, wide-armed over the mountains, her apron and her hair so clean and shiny. I cried three summers ago, many times a day, when I believed my husband and I had fallen irretrievably out of love. And then I cried during marriage counseling when I realized that our love wasn’t, in fact, the least bit irretrievable. That really, we just needed to take a few steps closer to one another, to close the chasm created by our kids’ presence. Oh, and I should probably come clean and say that the other morning, I cried when I saw glassy-full raindrops dangling from the bare branches of the cherry tree in our front yard. And just this week, I cried when I realized another great agent was offering to represent my book. Sometimes beauty is so beautiful and relief and joy are so great that only tears will do them justice.

So how could I have missed it? How could I have spent the last eight years telling Buddy to buck up, to Man Up, to stop crying, to be strong and brave? How could I have tried so many times to squash my son’s passion, the emotional swings that are so much a part of my own emotional make-up?

And isn’t that the rub! As parents, we’re supposed to know and understand our children better than anyone, yet I find that such close proximity to my children renders them blurry and dizzifying. Like watching some hi-def action movie from the front row of the theater. Like when Sweetie shows me a paper-cut, holding her finger three millimeters from my left eyeball. “I can’t see it, Sweetie,” I tell her. “I can’t see something when it’s that close.”

And she gives me a look that suggests I’m simply not trying hard enough.

I’ve said it before: parenting is akin to standing too close to a Seurat painting, staring so hard at one dot, a single brushstroke that alone, gives us no indication of the beauty of the larger work, the whole creation.

I never thought, as a parent, I’d need to make a bit of distance, to take a few small steps back to appreciate the wholeness of Buddy, a messy piece of art who, yes, cries over puddled milk and lost Legos and missed shots on goal. A boy who weeps when he takes a tumble or when he’s playing with kids who aren’t playing football-basketball-soccer-flyers up-tag by the rules. Just as I once wept for a celebrity widow I’ve never met. Just as I often get weepy in church when people ask God for His help with husband’s brain tumors and sick children and mental health and the safety of children fighting wars in the middle east.

Knowing one’s child requires truly knowing ourselves. Buddy has taught me this, a far more useful theory than the ones Einstein ever taught me.

Kids, even those lovely, easy-going kids who did not start life as squalling bundles of woe, really are so smart that way.

It’s true. Just ask anyone.

  1. Mine used to play unconscious/dead on the playground, which turned out to be my favorite game, because instead of his wailing, it gave me a moment of peace while he lay there, but the Other Moms…well, I don’t even need to finish that sentence, do I?

    Here’s another question. I try to teach mine that crying is fine, but yelling is not fine. He can cry all he wants, over anything that he wants, in fact crying is good and healthy een for boys, but it’s the yelling that goes with it that he needs to learn to control. Crying does not require vocal cords now that he’s within spitting distance of middle school.

    Thank you, as always, for your honesty, humor, and compassion.

    • I love the image of S playing dead on the playground. And yes, there is no need to finish the sentence that explains the disapproval of other moms. I love the distinction you make between yelling and crying. He will make a fine man, JD!

  2. First off, I almost cried when I got to the part where another great agent offered to represent your book!! So wonderful. Let me know how it works out, please!

    Back to the subject at hand. I am a bonafide male weeper. Unlike Buddy, I was raised by one of the toughest moms in the universe. Seriously, she could make you cry by just hardening her glare. She won every stare-down we ever had. I don’t know where I got my sensitive side, because it was not from the old Dutch washerwoman/shrewd business woman who raised me. I remember once crying because the butter was too cold and I ripped my bread. We had guests, and I was sent to bed without supper over it. Yeah, my mom was from the ‘Buck up, kid,’ school. And it was clear she was embarrassed by my weepiness.

    So I did it. I bucked up (if that’s really a thing). I forced myself to stop. For a long time. I ran a company, and had a reputation as sort of a tough boss, if I do say so. But then something happened. I started writing. And crying again. I opened some sort of floodgate. I cry at the drop of a hat now. I cried last night, telling my wife a story about someone liking my work. Yeah, it’s bad. I don’t know if I can buck up again, or even if I want to.

    So I’m glad you have the ability to stand back from the Seurat painting and see how cool being sensitive can sometimes be. My mom and I still have a sort of stoical relationship (she’s 84 and still tough as a dockworker). I wouldn’t want that to happen to you and Buddy. Great post, Sarah!

    • Jeez, I wish I could get you and my dear male writing partner together. You and he would hit it off immediately. And, I love that you became a crier as soon as you tapped into your creativity. LOVE that. Thanks for the beautiful, honest comment. I love imagining your midwestern, dockworker-of-a-mama giving you the what-for at the first sign of tears. You midwesterners are a hearty, stoic lot for sure. It’s good to know that a few of you can still compete with a west coast weeper like myself.

      You ARE an amazing writer. Better stock up on the tissues ’cause you’re going to be getting loads of compliments on your work.

  3. OK, both your entry and the comment above just made me cry! Sarah, I can’t tell you how much I look forward to your entries, like a lovely surprise present in the middle of my day! So glad to hear about the agent – can’t wait to hear more.

    It was a proud moment for me one day at the park when Buddy was screaming in agony, and another mom looked at me in alarm, and I was able to assure her “he’s OK!” with a big smile on my face.

    P.S. Tell Husbandio we ALL cried when Katie Couric’s husband died. Jeff and I had a similar conversation the morning of Princess Di’s funeral. 🙂

    • I know. Vaughn is the best. And so are you, dear R. I will happily pass along the news that EVERYone cried at the news of Widow Couric. When were you at the park with Buddy? Do you sometimes kidnap him when I’m not paying attention?

      Your comment makes me feel so darn good. Thank you. 🙂

  4. Your posts nearly make me cry, Sarah Callender, because they’re always so beautifully written. I am so, so pleased to hear your agent news.

    As for Buddy, he’s going to be just fine, I’m sure. Did you know we sometimes feel most critical about people displaying traits that are like traits we don’t appreciate in ourselves? I, for one, am glad you’re the type of person who’ll weep over raindrops dangling from the bare branches of a cherry tree. Speaking of, I have a picture I’ll have to send you later. Or, here — I’ll send you to my Flickr account, where very few of my pictures are on display:
    I cried when this beautiful tree suffered one harsh NY winter and all but died. It’s a stump of its former self now, but I can’t bear to rip it up and out. It’s still beautiful.

    • This is EXACTLY what our cheery tree looks like . . . oh, it’s such a tragedy to lose such a beauty like that. And yes, I totally agree that we pick on the things in others that we most dislike about ourselves. Will’s chaotic closet looks a heck of a lot like my chaotic closet. And the similarities don’t stop there.

  5. i have witnessed many a writhing-buddy-episodes and i’ve never once thought him to be a crybaby in a negative-connotation-crybaby-sense. he plays HARD and he’s genuine. he’s probably self-checking airway/breathing/neck/protruding bones down there on the floor in center court, and sometimes that can take a few moments.

  6. Sarah, you have no idea just how much I love your voice.
    Please… let me count the ways.

    I love that you are a crybaby.
    I love that you spawned a crybaby, in training.
    I love that you cry every time Maria climbs a mountain.
    I love that you cry for Everywoman.
    I love that you take out your heart, lay it prostrate on the floor and hope for the best.
    I love that you recognize truth, where truth is revealed, even though it smarts.
    I love that you gave your Buddy a “you can do this!” thumbs up, building confidence in his heart, even as it melted yours.
    I love that you can’t see three millimeters from your left eyeball.
    (I am trying to love that you dipped your sweet potato fries in mayonnaise.)
    I love you. (Weird, right?) I can’t help myself. If we were any closer in miles, I’d have to hug on your neck.

    Crybabies Unite! May our sensitive hearts shed tears like rain, and may we always have a friend’s sleeve to wipe our noses. *sniff*

    Love! Scarlett

  7. Sounds like you might be raising another writer! I too am a cry baby (I totally get the Sound of Music thing) and while I’m working on having my crying not hold me back in certain situations- particularly when I need to confront someone or am angry, I’m also starting to realize that feeling vulnerability so intensely, is actually a gift. It is why I am a writer and a personality trait that I have that people often admire, yet at the same time I’m so critical of it myself! Definitely agree with Therese on the theory of judging traits in others that we dislike in ourselves.

    I’m so glad to have found your blog! Thank you so much for this thoughtful blog post!

    • Oh my . . . totally feel your pain. I got so frustrated while on the phone with my daughter’s principal, that I burst into tears. Sometimes it’s awesome to be a crier; sometimes it’s hugely embarrassing and inappropriate. Thanks for the empathy, Sarah. Great Sarahs think alike.

  8. “You know why I married you? I knew you wouldn’t let me get boring, that you wouldn’t let me turn into someone I didn’t want to be. It’s great that Buddy has it too . . . your passion.”

    Wow, I can’t believe I’m related to someone who would say something so cool. He’s a keeper for sure!

    Great news about the agent, Sarah! And, as always, thanks for your funny and insightful writing 🙂

  9. Sarah, I loved this and yes, it made me cry. I’m a crybaby with a crybaby son (and daughter possibly). I always cry when children sing. Even as a clueless teenager that got to me.

    I love the word “passion” – I love to think that we’re sensitive, sure, but passionate too. Passionate feels strong. Crybaby or not.

    Thanks Sarah.

    • Totally agree Jodi . . . there has got to be a connection between passion and sensitivity. I have never thought about that! And you’re right; there’s nothing wussyish about passion. 🙂

  10. Ah yes, weeping. It’s crucial. Great post. Great news about the agent!

  11. This totally made me cry. What a beautiful post. And I can’t tell you how many times I haven’t been able to get through a children’s bedtime story because I started crying. Eric just kind of sighs knowingly and finishes the book for me, while Johnny looks at me kind of quizzically. But lord, how much better to feel too much than to feel too little, I suppose.

    And whoop whoop on the agent! I want to hear more! xox, K

  12. Yeah, what YOU said! I just read this out loud to the Livermore Husbandio and it rings SO true, I can’t believe we have experienced SO much of the same stuff… I am sending you big love and immense gratitude for your honesty and for writing down my life… it is so truly helpful. oxoxoxo

  13. You have such a thoughtfully written blog! I love this post. When our children are growing in us we can hardly think of them as separate beings. Then they pop out and we have to get to know them as people…especially when they actually start to form opinions (my two-and-a-half year old has quite a few of those). Yet all the while, they mirror us in ways we can’t see until we step outside ourselves, as you have done. On a side note…congratulations on the agent! I can’t wait to read your book when it’s published! Keep us all posted on that, please.

  14. Sarah, I just came across this post again while searching for something I was writing about Lily. Your words have healed the heart of another stressed out mom of a crybaby. I may have teared up a little. Thank you friend.

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