Babies may cry a lot. Toddlers may tantrum. Elderly people may cherish bittersweet memories of happier days. But, for pure, unadulterated drama, nothing beats the tweens.
This isn't new.
When I was a tween, my favorite movie was Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet. The first time I saw it, it was as though I suddenly understood the entirety of the human condition. We were here to love — not wisely, but too well. (All right, wrong play, I know, but relevant, don't you think?) Parents, community, life, religion, duty. Nothing meant anything in the face of star-crossed romance. To die for love? It was an honor that I dreamed not of!
It was the 70s. I had a poster from the movie over my bed. I read and re-read the play hundreds (maybe thousands) of times. I had an 8-LP set of the entire film's audio, which I had miraculously found — on sale — in the movie soundtrack department of Sam Goody on Lexington and 44th Street. I played it alone in my room over and over and over. This was before VCRs were common; I can't imagine the rivers of ecstatic tears I might have shed had I been able to actually watch the movie on a daily basis. I was distraught when my school ID was stolen (along with my Frye leather wallet and about $4 in cash) because people had told me I looked like Olivia Hussey in the picture.
To this day, just mention Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet? Deep sigh.
A couple of years ago, I tried to get my tween to watch the movie with me (yes, gentle reader, I now have my very own copy — such exquisite sorrow, such bliss!). It was one of those mother-daughter events I had looked forward to. We would curl up on the sofa with snacks and a big box of Kleenex. Obviously, there would be no boys allowed.
We started the movie, but my daughter isn't dumb. She figured out pretty quickly that we weren't in for a happy ending. "It's too sad!" she protested. I think we may have barely reached the point where Mercutio dies. It was not Shakespeare's ending, but it was definitely ours. I put the movie away for another day.
Now, a couple of years later, my daughter is caught up in her own tween tragedies. Mean girls at lunch, having to wear glasses to see the white boards in class, the loss of a favorite pony at her stable. Countless events like these, large and small, drive her to tears on a pretty regular basis.
My husband is perpetually bewildered by it. Me? I try to help. Operative word: try.
There's a distinct chemical reaction that occurs in the body and soul of a mother when we hear our baby's cry. Pulses and blood pressures increase; we are physically as well as emotionally compelled into action. This doesn't completely go away just because they don't need us for basic human survival anymore. My daughter's tears (even when my decisions — "No cell phone for a week," "No riding tonight," "No Facebook forever" — have caused them) still drive me to distraction.
We talk through whatever has happened. I give advice. I work to instill resilience. I encourage her to take control of her own reactions when she can't control the actions of others. My success is well ... not very successful. But, at least she comes to me with her woes so some part of her must still think I have the resources to comfort.
And, I have to remind myself that part of being that age is feeling, feeling oh-so intensely. She is making sense of the world and plotting her own course as the heroine in it. Boredom is the enemy. Experiencing emotion, even painful emotion, even godawful, blubbering, heartbreaking emotion, keeps her in her own spotlight.
In truth, we have been blessed with very little actual tragedy in our family to date. So, my daughter (like myself before her) has to create or at least nurture what poignant sadness she can. Sometimes I can help her see perspective or even a touch of humor in a situation. Sometimes I can help her stop crying. But, sometimes — and, this is precisely what my husband does not get — she just needs to cry.
Because, never was a tale of such woe, as a tween who simply has to let it go.