Inside Out

I am a writer. I use my words.

I find it easy to describe my feelings.

Ravenous? Joyful? Discombobulated? (I am often discombobulated.)

But when my daughter is sad or overwhelmed, feeling awkward, she doesn’t speak her discomfort (or scream or cry or act out). She comes to me, puts her head on my shoulder and says, “I’m tired.”

Quietly. So no one else hears.

Occasionally, it’s My ear is sore.  Or My palms won’t stop itching.

“Have you washed your hands this week?”

“Mom.” Deadpan look. “You’re so not funny.”

Perhaps. But I’d be lying if I told you I never laugh.

Karly has complained about tiny injuries for her entire fifteen years. A litany of aches and pains attacking body parts I have no name for.

“My foot is bothering me.”

“Your heel?”


“The ball?”


“Ankle? Toe? Achilles tendon?”

She shakes her head. “The part in between.”


“Yeah,” she says. “It’s uncomfortable.”

I offer Advil. No. Band Aid? Neosporin? Should we go to Urgent Care?


I sigh. Then I guess I can’t help you.

I sit on the couch and she slides onto the cushion next to me, limbs draped over mine. Tugging up the legs of her sweatpants, she exposes her pale skin.

“Tickle me?”

Again? I think. Can’t I ever just sit?

Still, I rub her calves and we watch TV together. She shifts, shoves an arm in my direction. I know what’s coming next.

“My elbow’s been hurting.”

“For how long?” I ask.

She shrugs. I try not to roll my eyes but I can’t help myself.

“It’s always something with you, isn’t it?”

I hear it, then answer my own dumb question (because apparently, a house needs to fall on me).

Yes. It’s always something.

Of course it is.

Don’t we all have somethings? All the time?

Life is a series of somethings. Different people simply handle them differently.

We yell. Issue silent treatments. There might be cursing or slammed doors.

Some people act out.

Karly acts in.

She wears her heart on her elbow. So to speak.

I count myself lucky that my teenaged daughter is not dramatic. She doesn’t have tantrums, pitch fits or claim to hate me. She pulls in on herself and her emotional pain manifests on the outside.

When she is happy, she lights up the world. Laughter. Jokes. Stories. So many words.

“Mom! It was so funny!”

But she tucks the sadness away, lets it settle and disperse until she forgets that the “part in between ” was hurting.

Does this way of coping serve her well? I often worry that it doesn’t. But my attempts to coax her out have been largely unsuccessful. She prefers not to share the negative. At least not in words.


I stroke her elbow. Or her knee. Her neck. Let her rest her head on my shoulder.

“I feel tired,” she’ll say.

And I hope hope hope she also feels my love.

Karly and Bella

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31 thoughts on “Inside Out

  1. What beautiful sentiment, Julie. Though the “fixer” in me would go crazy, I fear.

    The La, my beautiful daughter, I believe, will never be this . . . she will wail, she will stomp, she will explain what is wrong (in every minute detail she can come up with), she will be dramatic. But my sweet CJ? I think this will be him . . . right now, he’ll act out & be dramatic, but I wonder how much of that is him just imitating his little sister. There is a quiet side to him. An “I’m just tired” when things aren’t perfect to be the yin to the “sparkling eye & infectious laugh” yang.

  2. Di

    As I read this post, I see that you have managed to capture Karly’s spirit and your love in poignant and beautiful words. Having known you for a couple of decades and Karly for her entire life, I have witnessed first hand exactly what you have expressed. Once again Julie you have managed to bring a tear and a smile to my face at the same time. Lots of love to you and to KK!

  3. This is such a beautiful reminder to *listen* to our kids, even when they aren’t really saying anything. Know their little quirks. Being in tun with my kids is one of my main goals as a mother.

  4. What a lucky girl she is to have a mother who knows and understands her so well.

    I have one who emotes and one who puts on a happy face. Even with the drama, I prefer the open emotions to the silence that can sometimes mask pain and anxiety. It’s so easy to forget to dig a little deeper, listen a little harder, and remember the outside doesn’t always match the inside.

  5. This is my Zoe. My goodness, she and Karly are mirrors of one another. I try, Julie. I try not to roll my eyes or sigh expansively when she comes with yet another random hurt. The left side of my left elbow hurts when I bend it to the left. Yesterday, I hit my knee on the table. It still hurts. Mommy, this eye keeps jumping. It irritates me and yet I never turn her away. I will laugh and tell her not to move her elbow that way if it seems like she’s just saying something to say it, but I do try to hear whatever it is she’s really saying.

  6. My Felix is a little like that. His joy is infectious, present, but his upsets are quiet. He worries little stones in his heart until they’re ready to be shared. I have had to learn to be patient, to keep hearing what he’s not saying until the moment of sharing comes. I so hope he still shares them with me when he’s Karly’s age.

  7. I love the word discombobulated. 🙂

    I love that you two are this close, so beautiful. I hope my daughter and I can be so close always as well.

  8. Well you know, here I sit, full of a daughter of my own, wondering what she will be like. Everyone says to look out for the dramatics, but her oldest brother has already nailed that personality trait. I wonder if she will be more like her dad, acting in rather than out.

    I hope if that is the case, she will still come to me as Karly does to you to tell me she is feeling tired.

  9. KTP

    You are a wonderful example of a woman who has grown up to master the art of expressing herself in words. A wonderful example for your sensitive daughter, who doesn’t quite have them yet. But “the part in between,” indeed.

  10. So beautiful Julie. (But that’s no surprise.) Sorry your sweet Karly turns inward. She’s lucky to have such a wonderful mother who knows how to help her with the part in between.

    (BTW, if you ever do find yourself craving some teenage drama I can send you-know-who over and help you with that!)

  11. She sounds so much like you.

  12. You are doing a great job of letting Karly be herself. There is no greater love.

  13. Beautiful words. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how tired I am. I don’t think that I lack sleep, but I’m lacking something. Your words have inspired me to call my mom. She will know. Thank you!

  14. She looks so much like you in that picture. It’s so hard, isn’t it, when our kids’ reactions are so much different than our own would be? Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do with the way they deal. But you sound like a lucky mom of a teenaged girl.

  15. The way you have decoded her style is so important. You could have gone on thinking that she was only talking about being tired, but you’ve figured out what makes her tick, and you roll with it. That’s good parenting, Julie.

  16. Oh Julie…you are so good at this. At putting your heart into words.

    I think this is the most parenting or rather the most thinking and soul-searching during parenting I have ever done. Months of wondering if I’m getting it right or close to right. I needed this. I love how you love your daughter.

  17. My son is exactly the same way. I often felt like he is at odds with his body and doesn’t know how to interpret “normal” aches and pains, until I realized that it’s how he expresses stress/sadness… And while it’s good that you’re trying to coax her out of her shell, it’s also wonderful that you keep stroking that elbow, because that’s what will make the pain bearable in the end – inside and out. xo

  18. I love how dialed in to her you are. And though she may not be verbally expressive, she allows you to help her channel it out.

  19. This sounds very familiar to me. These young people in their mysterious ways will never cease to amaze me. Or, at times, baffle me.
    Beautiful words. Thanks for sharing them.

  20. If I were your daughter (even though we are the exact same age) I would feel infinitely reassured by your presence and touch and kindness, even if I were not able to get all the feelings out in a more verbal manner. I’m sure this brings Karly just the healing she needs.

  21. sisters from another mister

    The hurting, so deep sometimes yet it seems as tho it simply brushes against our shoulders and we believe our shoulders are wide enough to harbor the load .. yet, the truth, the truth is that we are afraid of the hurting, it weighs us down … and it makes us very tired.

    Love this as always, your words that pour from your heart xxx

  22. Oh I just love how you get her. xo

  23. You’re so astute– that line about “acting in” instead of “acting out.” That is probably true of so many people. How wonderful that she has a mom who recognizes that truth.

  24. My oldest and Karly are kindred spirits. He has an ailment a day, and often if I ask him about it later he seems baffled.The ailments may not be entirely real, but his sweet heart is.

    PS – discombobulated is one of the best words.

  25. Julie,

    My son is another one who holds his hurts inside. He’s so different from me, it’s often difficult for me to believe we have a connection. I’m lucky because he LOVES to have his head rubbed. Just his head, not anywhere else because he’s much to sensitive and ticklish. Thank goodness I have long nails that can scratch his scalp. How much do I love to see him exhale a little bit as I massage his head and neck and shoulders.

    I know that your daughter is probably reassured by your presence, by the way you hold space and accept her as she is (or at least try to). I have to believe that. Because if it’s true for you, it might be true for me to too. Maybe. I hope.

  26. ***But she tucks the sadness away, lets it settle and disperse until she forgets that the “part in between ” was hurting.**


    that’s all. x

  27. Oh Julie.
    You give her what she needs.
    Karly, she is such a lovely soul. Just like her Mama. xo

  28. That was beautifully written. I love that you are so in tune to her. She knows it. She must.

  29. Oh my, this one tugged at my heart. My little A is quite dramatic when upset, but her ranting is never about what she claims. So I try to stay calm, and I ask her to sit near me, and sometimes, sometimes that helps. I know the head on the shoulder, the closeness, the tension that doesn’t manifest itself as words. She will tell stories for hours, but when she is sad, she just needs to be nearby.

  30. Beautiful. Your patience is the loudest expression of your love. You are a role model (though you probably cringed as you read that) of devotion and unconditional love. Thank you for sharing this.

  31. Oh, this is such a beautiful and raw and honest post. Your daughter sounds like she has such a tender soul, and it’s wonderful you can help soothe her “elbow” or tickle away the in between mysterious aches. Who knows, maybe this is just her way of coping, of processing, and perhaps it serves her and her personality. She’s lucky to have you to help put into words her emotions if she so desires.

    I love your writing and am very happy to have found your blog (via comments on Nina Badzin’s friendship column, I’m always curious how people find me!).

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