The heat of the day was sweltering. The water, refreshing and soothing, rolled over our skin. There were large tan colored boulders against the mountain, and we leaped with abandon from the boulders into the cool shimmering water. The water slide was made out of concrete and twisted and turned its way through the boulders into the pool below. My son and I decided to go down the slide. He went first and lay on his back so he could pick up speed. After it appeared to be clear, I slid down and into the water. I couldn’t see my son, but surmised that he must be swimming over to the cliff jump. I swam that way too and eventually found him at the bottom of the cliff. He seemed to be happy and smiling, but he said,
“Mama, I have a bump on my head.”
I felt his hair and there was an enormous goose egg sticking at least an inch and a half out of his head.
“What happened?” I exclaimed.
He responded, “When I went down the water slide, I hit my head.”
I replied, “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I was crying under water,” he said.
I’ve always tried to teach my kids to be tough. I respect people who don’t cry at every little ache or pain. When the children were little, I tried not to run to them every time they got hurt. I’d wait to see if it got better in a few minutes. Usually it did. If not, I’d try to deal calmly with whatever the ailment was. I’ve tried to give them experiences where they feel a little discomfort sometimes - a little hot, a little cold, a little thirsty, a little hungry - because I think it’s good for them. I’m not sure why exactly, but my parents did the same for me. In fact, my family spent the night on a mountain in New Hampshire once, with no food, water, or light, huddled together for warmth. It happens to be one of my favorite memories. We just told stories and slept a little in the leaves until the sun came up. Nobody cried.
But a head injury is another story. I had to watch my son for the next few days in case he had suffered a concussion. Why didn’t he feel that he could cry? This would have been the time to cry. What if he had suffered a concussion and didn’t come up from the water. How long would it have taken to find him?
I found myself asking why boys in particular don’t feel like it’s okay to cry. Why did my son have to cry under water? Crying can be cathartic or alert people to danger. I try not to cry when I am injured, but I cry when I see or hear something exquisitely beautiful, like a song, or when I read a particularly poignant book, or when I feel really sad and despairing. I don’t think most boys feel that they can cry about these things. Why do we expect boys to control their feelings? Are we teaching them to limit their range of emotions? Are we raising our boys to be too tough?