I’ve always worn my emotions on my sleeve. I’m known to cry easily, whether watching old people wipe out near water or on dance floors on the still entertaining America’s Funniest Videos. Tears begin to bubble when I watch year-end reviews and see stories about disabled people becoming MVPs of sports games or victims of bullying getting makeovers. I tear up when I tell my oldest son that I couldn’t be more proud of him because of the way he’s so tolerant and loving towards Peter. My emotions trip me up before I even utter a word. I guess I’m what you would call an emotional basket case. Not all of the time, but enough of the time in that the descriptor describes me.
I try and temper my emotions so that I’m not crying when I shouldn’t or crying so much where my children start thinking, “Geeze! Mom’s lost it.” Isn’t shielding our kids from our emotional flare-ups part of a parent’s job? Some people, like me, have to work harder at it than others. That leads me to the ambiguous response of “I’m fine” when asked the question, “What’s wrong?” That’s a question my son asks me frequently because my emotions are hard to disguise. “I’m fine” means so many things, though none of the translations imply that everything is copasetic. Most grown men know that when a woman answers “I’m fine” that’s female speak for somethin’s a brewin’ and you’ll have to guess what.
Of course isn’t “I’m fine” also the same as giving the generic answer “good” when somebody asks, “How are you?” With exception, there are those people who use proper English responding with the correct adverb “well” that often interrupts the flow of meaningless exchanges. Generally, responses of “well” and “good” are usually succinct substitutes for real feelings just to keep the conversation moving. Most people aren’t expecting a true response. It wouldn’t be polite to answer that I’ve had better days or that I’ve had an upset stomach all morning. I wouldn’t tell a store clerk that I’m exhausted because of stress-induced insomnia or that my aging dog wakes me to urinate throughout the night. Most of us answer “good” or “fine” almost robotically. Only in a foreign language, namely Spanish, have I ever learned to specify the degree of how I’m feeling (e.g., muy bueno.) And even then, I only used it just to test my vocabulary with an audience of one—my professor.
So, at 12 years-old, my son has already translated the real meaning of “I’m fine.” He’s called me out, too, by commenting that it’s an answer I give often. An evasive answer that doesn’t always match my face. For now, “I’m fine” will have to do. There are certain things that I don’t want to tell my son. I don’t want to say why I’m stressed, that money’s tight or that I’m burned out being a mom. I don’t want to explain why I’m emotional or even attribute it to my raging hormones, which would be a cut and dry explanation. But he doesn’t understand that yet.
Perhaps when he gets older he won’t ask so many questions. Maybe he’ll figure out that my mood swings and accompanying voracious cleaning streak once a month needs no translating. Until then, I’ll continue to hide my emotions when needed and continue to say “I’m fine” when an explanation to how I’m doing leaves me teetering on a breakdown. And worse case, I’ll leave the room just to hide my quivering lip. Maybe one of these days I’ll stop faking it and pull myself together. This Bloody Mary might help. Thank you Carson Daly.