Here is a very incomplete list of some things I have had a disproportionate emotional reaction to:
1. My mother throwing out my broken-spined loose-paged copy of Charlotte’s Web in 1983
2. Finding out a friend’s show was sold out when it was my only free night to see it
3. Missing various trams/trains by seconds
4. The scene in Punky Brewster when Henry died
5. Pretty much any time anyone challenges me, I get angry, am over-tired, read a sad story, get frustrated with myself….OK OK.
I cry easily. It’s a thing I do. It’s the legacy of an over-filled and hyper-sensitive heart, a whack of (slowly-diminishing) immaturity, a fair few endocrinological disorders and a punishing (and physical) paternal attitude to crying (not his fault, the way he was brought up was no doubt vastly more strict).
The level of my responses differs from a lot of people’s. Something truly awful happens, my eyes are dry and my thinking is clear, but if I get super tired and sixteen small things go wrong, and you witness the final straw, you might see some tears well. Prospective employers, partners and colleagues - please believe that this is only in extremes, and it’s mostly leaking not sobbing (unless you break my heart or run over my parents). Still, even leaking can be very confusing to people who aren’t as familiar with me. The good side is I remain calm, collected and practical in a crisis (indoor pool wall falling on my year level at swimming carnival, junkie stealing a colleague’s bag, threatened sexual violence…that level of crisis). The bad thing about it is most people who don’t know me think I am a complete madwoman.
So I’ve done a few things to attempt to combat this:
1. Try to reflect more on the stakes at hand, thus judging their importance more coolly
2. Breathe when I feel tears a-rising
3. Distract myself with jobs and avoid eye-contact
4. Carry tissues
5. Wear less mascara
6. At every opportunity, dack my nephew.
For nothing cheers you more than the company of children. Children - nice ones - can be brilliant for your moods when you are a grown up who struggles with controlling them, because they themselves have little or no emotional control. You appear so WISE in comparison to a 4-year-old screaming about the Wii! Alongside the tween slamming of doors (which I know I did a lot) and the trials of the DS battery life, I become like Yoda, Aughra or that cross-dressing rat with the glowing eyes in The Secret of Nimh.
But the other thing about kidlets is they don’t beat themselves up for feeling things. We’re very good at that, we adults. End of a relationship, all you do is recast all the nice things into “what a massive stupid fool I was to believe any of that”. It’s a coping mechanism. So you get your heart smashed then you punch yourself in the face for a few months/years afterwards for being such a FUCK-KNUCKLE for BELIEVING that LYING…oh excuse me. You know what I mean. Its too easy to hate yourself for feeling anything or closing yourself off, rather than get hold of the reins and pull the brumby into line.
As an aunt, I have built up certain rituals around some of the kids which bring me joy. And these rituals remind me of the the other awesome thing about children’s lack of emotional control - that their lack of control extends to happiness as well. And anything that makes us both giggle like fools is welcome in my unruly brambled heart.
For a few years now, I have kept up a persistent dack-attack one of my nephews. Not in a weird way, just a good old-fashioned family joshing about dacking - the innocent, swift de-pants-ing of a relation, while preferably leaving grundies bum-borne. The goal is underwear exposure.
For the unintiated, the art of ‘dacking’ is a precarious endeavour, requiring patience, stealth, a keen eye, Helpmann Award-winning acting skills and super fast reflexes.
a) Once you have spotted your victim, continue any conversation you happen to be in with your corresponding adult. At this point it is crucial that your gaze and voice betray no dacking intent. Your victim is alert, and probably quite a few years younger than you, so s/he spooks easily and moves speedily.
b) Keeping half an eye on your victim, swivel yourself around in your chair so that you are in a clear lunging position. The last thing you want when attempting a high-speed pants-down is to crash into an ironing board, adjoining chair, or a smaller child on your way to the elusive elastic waistband. Make sure your centre of gravity is on the edge of your chair. Note: this is always best attempted from a seated position. An adult suddenly stooping to attempt the dacking of a niece/nephew usually results in embarrassing back pain for the adult and mockery from the unscathed, fully-garbed child. Being seated gets your eyes and hands at child-height.
c) At this point you should have every muscle poised for the pounce, all the while continuing the conversation feint. Timing is crucial.
d) The very second your victim both strays within lunging distance and turns his/her back to you, leap forwards, arms out-stretched, grasping each side of the victim’s waistband firmly and yanking downwards in one smooth movement.
If you have executed the dacking skilfully, your victim will be standing before you, Buzz Lightyear underpants resplendently displayed, and unable to run from his/her defeat for his/her legwear, being around his/her ankles, would impede progress.
Well, one of my nephews has evolved.
Yes, years of sibling (and auntie) persecution has resulted in his development of an extraordinary, and completely reflexive frog-stance; the second he feels anything dack-like or even if he hears a swift movement behind him, he squats, throwing his knees outwards in opposing directions, thus preventing the full de-pantsification.
I shed no tears over this foiling of my dack-plans. “Surely,” I hear you cry, “you’d burst into wails of poorly controlled emotion, Geraldine? SURELY, you mad ginger bitch! YOU CRIED AT PUNKY BREWSTER YOU MENTAL!”
Not at all. Because, you see, the sight of him, mid-sentence, squatting like a tiny spindly white Maori warrior is farkin’ piss funny. The failure has produced something of even greater worth and joy. Now I don’t even have to try a full dack. I get the pleasure of feigning to go for a dack and watching the frog-squat kick in while I’m still a metre away, then watch him try to carry on what he was doing. B-r-i-l-l-i-a-n-t.
I am sorry that I’m an emotional powerhouse, as my head of drama once put it. It makes my life pretty tiring, though it does lend some oomph to my art. I’m sorry it’s taking me a long time to learn how to control it, or at least rein it in. I do try. And I am not, contrary to popular belief, completely bonkers. And you know what? I will dack, and dack, and dack until that boy is in his 50s and I am a gnarled old cackling Aughra, with a shock of dyed red wispy hair on my head (and chin) and when my arthritic hands don’t work any more, just because it’s hilarious. When kids are young, they haven’t worked out how many flaws we all have. So, rest assured, when they DO get old enough to see all the mistakes, petulance and imperfections that make up being a grown up human, I can it least make it harder for them to be judgemental by ensuring their pants are firmly around their ankles.
Take THAT Soleil Moon Frye. Oh bugger, she’s wearing jeans…