Waking up with a headache, when there’s no reason to wake up with a headache, is frustrating.
Lemme relate to you a story.
This past Sunday we dropped in on a church in northern Maine. We got up early, showered and dressed, and the ladies made their faces and hairs nice (boys’ faces and hairs don’t have more than the one mode). We made the RV into traveling mode and jostled the ten minutes into town over the awful Maine “roads.”
This church was in a highschool gymnasium, with folding chairs and put-up/take-down front pieces. Lots of people and a really good representation of kids of all ages were milling around finding seats and visiting as we arrived. In good church fashion, several folks came and introduced themselves to us as a visiting family, which I always enjoy. Inevitably we end up explaining our current road-trip lifestyle multiple times.
At one point, as I was happily chatting with someone, I glanced over at Keaton, our thirteen year old, and noticed her eyes glistening, wet. Upon further inspection, I could tell she was working diligently at not crying. Concerned, I concluded my conversation and, when the coast was clear asked her simply, “Is everything OK?”
“Yeah,” she replied. Liar.
“It’s just that you look sad,” I say. Dumb dad. That did it.
“I am,” she said, and the tears came easy, they were already brimming, and her face flushed quickly from the effort of finally letting go what she’d been holding in. Seeing that actually crying in church was obviously worse than almost crying in church, I didn’t press it. Put my hand on her back, watched her compose herself, and kept churching. But I was curious.
Later in the day, back in the campground, there was a moment where it was just us. I dared ask, “Hey what were you upset about this morning in church?” She considered for a moment, “I was sad that I didn’t have cute clothes.” A couple hours later she sought me out to say, “Dad remember when I said I was sad because I didn’t have any cute clothes? Well I wasn’t sad, I was embarrassed. Especially with all those other kids my age around.” The distinction seemed very important to her.
Oh, I see. I didn’t expect that.
And at first I thought how silly… and that I could never recall feeling that way, let alone crying in public, over such a thing as a kid her age. But then I found myself remembering how badly I wished I had one of the cool Billabong jackets everyone was wearing in 7th grade, and how much I wanted name-brand jeans vs. the discount store kind, and how my shoes needed to have air in the soles or I’d never make friends.
So, I found myself in a position to both offer sympathy and empathy. Re: empathy, I didn’t bother. From experience the parental “I know how you feel, I’ve been there too” tack isn’t well met in teenagers unless accompanied with a very specific story in which they can imagine themselves, and anyway this wasn’t the time. I didn’t really go heavy on sympathy, either. Instead I just said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”
“It’s OK,” she said.
And it was.