Crying Alone: Lessons from the Playground

How we manage our emotions today are ghosts of what we were taught.

I swear, living next to an elementary school is one of the best things that’s happened to me. Despite the midnight snow clearing and periodic school bells, every time I step outside of my house I’m greeted with a new lesson, which sometimes involves crying.

…. Be weird, no one cares. This includes walking in circles alone and mumbling to one’s self.

…. Run as fast as you can, feel the wind in your hair and laugh and laugh and laugh.

… Make up the rules as you go.

Today as I walked by, a young girl was standing by herself, abandoned on the recess field, pressed against the fence. As I got closer, I saw a teacher approaching, asking her to join the rest of the class. “I’m crying”, she responded, pressing further into the fence.

Her teacher’s response? A flat “Well, you can walk and cry. Come on. We have to get inside.”

I was horrified. My first instinct was to judge the shit out of that teacher. She shouldn’t have to cry in front of others? What if her face is red? Or her eyes? What a MONSTER. She didn’t even get down to her level and ask her what had happened? Given her a hug?

And then I got to thinking…

What should the teacher have done? Should she have stopped everything for this child to cry and talk about all the ways she was hurting? Sequester her in a corner where she can continue to feel ashamed of her tears? Or can she process her emotions on the walk, arrive a little bleary eyed, and realize that just because she was hurting, it doesn’t mean she needs to be ashamed.

She can walk and cry. And she can know that she has a few minutes with her teacher, walking hand-in-hand, to talk about what happened and how she’s feeling. She can be offered support that doesn’t dramatize or push aside her reaction. She can arrive, smiling yet tender. Cared for, seen, heard, and over it, or still in it. Without shame, without blame. And just like that, she’s off on her next adventure.

When did we forget that crying is natural and that emotions are safe? Perhaps we didn’t forget, perhaps it was taught out of us. How do we treat ourselves and others around us when we’re feeling deep grief or sadness or rejection? Do we feel powerful? Seen? Heard? HEALED?

Instead of stuffing, filing or pushing our feelings away. Instead of blaming and shaming our feelings away, what other choices do we have? None of these pathways {reject or regret} satisfy the core hurt. So what can we do instead?

We can walk and cry.


Originally published at www.jo-tucker.com on April 13, 2017.

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