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.”
“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.
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.