THE BLOG
04/23/2012 07:10 pm ET | Updated Jun 23, 2012

The Real Cry: A Daughter's Expression Evolves

In the beginning there was the hungry cry. I remember it well. It began as almost a cough, and got quicker as my daughter's mouth got closer to my breast.

Then came the tired cry, which hinted of something bigger. But when she began to rub her eyes, it was clear all she needed was her crib.

Later, there was the hurting cry. Open mouthed, sometimes silent, then a breath and then a scream. Bandaids, kisses, a slap to whatever she had tripped on ("Bad table! Why did you hurt A_____?!") and then a smile, the drying of her tears.

At first, crying is a child's only way to tell you anything. But it is amazing how much children continue to cry, even after they can express themselves with words.

My daughter is three and a half, and has recently begun crying the cry she will know for the rest of her life: the saddest cry in the world. This is the cry that accompanies the words, "That makes me sad." She has asked me to lick her tears away, as if they feel different now that they mean something new.

When I was a child, my anxiety came out in full-body hives. I had to learn to make my feelings heard. My daughter does not seem to have this problem; of course sometimes she screams, but it is usually accompanied by a clearing within the drama, in which she is able to name the root.

One of the most tragic parts of the cry of sadness is that in some ways it seems learned. As soon as language enters, there is emotion. Before that, there are only meals and dreams.

When language enters, a name is matched to the pang in your gut, the racing in your heart, the hurt in your belly, the itch of your hives. It's the root of therapy, perhaps: Give your pain a story and speak it, let a part of it go into the world with your words, wait for it to become real in the office air, now the problem is not yours alone.

When my daughter does not feel heard she will sometimes hit or kick or shove. She will do something I tell her not to do over and over. When the crying subsides, when her time out is over, or when she has finally stopped on her own, she will tell me what is wrong.

"I just want you to hold me," she will often say.

I take her in my arms, and squeeze her, sometimes finding myself wishing I could take her words away. Because now that she can point to the sad face of the bear in her Bernstein Bear books, and tell me what that bear is feeling, I worry that the hope will soon be gone. Because isn't it true that once you speak the words, and you can "match" those words to someone else saying the same thing, you realize that even though you can both give your hurt the same name, it doesn't make you any less alone?

Of course I can think of this other ways. I want to think of this other ways. So I'll tell you this:

Once, there was a little girl who had hives all over her body. She went to doctors and doctors, tried different diets, detergent and soap. They pulled up her fuzzy carpet, worried that that was the cause. The hives looked like welts on her stomach and thighs.

When they had tried everything, and the hives still came, the doctor threw up his hands and turned to the only thing left. The next day the girl was in an office with concrete floors in the basement of a house. The man across from her asked her what it was she was feeling, and when she spoke, her words became trapped within the double-cork doors: they hung in the air, outside of her, but not fully gone.

Soon she could not stop talking. She wrote her words on paper, traced them on her skin. In her dreams they built a tent for her to live inside the basement, so that she wouldn't have to stop. But really she would have to leave each week, as he opened one cork door, and then reached in the opposite direction for the knob to the other.

Outside she would wait for her mother or father to pick her up, take her back to her house and her carpet-less room. At night she would eat her dinner, take her bath with scented soap, and smell her clean sheets, before sleeping. And soon she was looking for more words to tell her story, her head in new books, forgetting to itch.