It must have happened sometime in this past year. He stopped crying as freely and started blinking back the tears instead. I noticed it last month when we told the boys our dog, one of the pair we’ve had since before they were even born, had died. Our four-year-old didn’t really understand. Our seven-year-old knew what death meant, but he didn’t cry. He sat quietly and just blink-blink-blinked back the tears.
I wonder if this is our doing, if it is the result of our admonitions. “That’s enough crying,” we would say when the tears seemed to flow too freely, the way they so often do with young children. In principle, I want my children express their feelings. In reality, I don’t always have the frustration tolerance or patience to let them. Or maybe it’s the product of going off to school and learning words like “cry baby” from his peers. Or maybe it’s his own discomfort acknowledging vulnerable feelings, like when he was four and insisted he wasn’t afraid of anything. Maybe it is all of these things.
I show Zip a picture of our house-in-progress, the one we are building across town, in another school district. Look, I say. It has a roof now! Isn’t that exciting?
I don’t want to move. I don’t want leave my friends, he says.
We talk a little bit about that. Blink-blink-blink. He changes the subject. He jumps up and goes to play with his little brother.
I find him later, looking for something in the front closet. Come here, I say. I want to tell you something. I open my arms to him and he crawls onto my lap, wrapping his skinny legs around me. You know mommies know their kids better than anyone else in the whole wide world, I say.
And daddies, he adds.
Yes, that’s right. Mommies and daddies. We know our kids better than anyone else does. And we know when our kids try not to cry. We know how they blink away the tears instead, like this. I pull back from him, so he can see my face, and he watches solemnly as I demonstrate. Blink-blink-blink. I hold him close again.
I know you are sad about moving, I say. It’s okay to be sad about it. It’s okay to cry about it. You don’t have to stop yourself from being sad…. When I was a little girl my very best friend in the whole world moved away. And I was so sad. I cried a lot, I missed her so much.
He doesn’t make a sound, but I know. His head is on my shoulder, his face nestled against my neck. The tears fall. Silently.
Being sad is a part of life sometimes. It just is. But Daddy and I are here. You can tell us when you’re sad.
We sit for a little longer, my 7-year-old, the one somewhere between little boy and big kid, safe and sad in my lap.
Momma, did you know that picture is upside down? he says after a while.
That picture, over the front table. You hung it upside down.
And just like that, he has moved on, the way children with their short attention spans and rollercoaster emotions do. But I have told him what I wanted to say, and he heard me. My boy unwinds himself from my lap and we stand side-by-side in front of the picture, the upside down picture that has been hanging that way for 2 months with no one noticing, and we laugh.