Yesterday I had the whole day with Olive, which was lovely. But something was gnawing on my heart the whole time. Whenever I feel that tightness in the chest, I try to search within myself for the cause. But I couldn’t really find anything, or more specifically I found a myriad of small things, none of which could really be the sole reason for my mood. All that inward searching just left me feeling like this:
When I can’t find what is bothering me within, I just get really irritable. I was annoyed with the laptop junkies at Ritual who were glaring at me while Olive squealed her glee at the ginger scone she was enjoying (“This is not a library, people!”), I became irate when the J was late, I had little patience with confused communications over email. I ended up feeling pretty much exactly like this:
Now, I understand that my daughter and I are two separate people, and I’m just comically using her photos here to express my own emotions, mainly because she is so incredibly in touch with her own, far more than I could ever dream of being. She is not a very fussy person, but wildly expressive. I almost never have a hard time figuring out what is going on for her — her face says it all.
I hope that I can continue to instill this in her. In my house growing up, emotions were a tricky thing. We are Italian, so there was lots of yelling and gesticulating, but we are also Irish, so there was plenty of moody pensiveness as well. Actually, my parents were good about comforting me when I was sad, but there was no space for my frustration (of which I had plenty of), and when I was scared my dad would growl, “Fear is your friend! Face your fear!” and point me right in the direction of whatever was terrifying me. I seriously once was made to walk through a cemetery at night with a dog, since I was afraid of the dark, cemeteries, and dogs.
I understand what my dad was trying to do. He wasn’t a repressed person at all, but in his experience, emotions were really dangerous. He was trying to help me — feeling your feelings only leads to more pain, so find a way not to feel them, either by getting tough or isolating yourself until you were numb. At least that’s the message I received from my upbringing — they could have been trying to tell me something totally different, but that’s where I went with it.
And for a very long time, I would resist my feelings, especially the more sensitive ones like hurt and loneliness. But going to therapy grad school is like boot camp for feeling your emotions, and I learned the hard way that the only real way out is through. My friend Amanda and I always go back to the time she texted me about some really difficult feeling she was having and I just texted back, “Lean into it.” I was quoting a Bjork song, of course, but I having been living that way and finding it adds richness to my life to do so.
So, I leaned into it yesterday. I let my uncomfortable feelings sit right there along with all the joy I was experiencing being with Olive. It didn’t cure them — I’m still feeling inexplicably gunked up today. But it made me real in those moments, and more fully myself, more fully alive. It made it all the more precious to me when Olive really cracked me up at the rec center when she was on the mini-trampoline and another baby came up and she started pushing her butt against his, trying to edge him off the trampoline so she could jump solo. Or when she did laps around the gym using one of those baby walkers, lifting her feet high one by one, staring at their progress across the floor. And making space for my emotions gives me more space for hers. She needs it — she’s got a lot to feel and express in that little face of hers!