Why I Stopped Telling Her to Calm Down
They told me that they chose my name because of the meaning. My first and middle name together essentially mean,"lively and anointed." When I first heard it, I stared blankly back at them, because what the hell does "anointed" even mean when you're seven? Anointed for what? (There was no denying that I had the "lively" part down, obviously). The meaning behind my name pulled at me vaguely over the course of my young adult life, and ultimately, I decided it was was something I was probably overthinking.
29-ish years later, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed after the kids were in bed when I came across the above quote. It literally knocked the wind out of me. It's not that radical of an idea, really. It just felt that way because I grew up in an environment that often favored avoidance, one that (I'd like to think inadvertently) sent the message to me that appearances outrank everything else, that if something got buried deep enough- and for long enough- it would eventually disappear.
Suffice it to say, it didn't work out that way for me. (My therapist would also later confirm that). What I didn't come to grasp until relatively recently, was that I was at the tail end of several generations of human beings I love(d) dearly, who ultimately chose to sweep up and under what should have been spoken out and named, right then and there. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, there's an emotional lineage that's rooted just as deeply as our ethnic ancestry. The things we avoid and the hurts we sustain will eventually surface- and resurface- until it gets dealt with, even if it's generations from now.
But I didn't understand this, lying in the fetal position on our bed in our first house- newly married, barely eating, and crying uncontrollably because I didn't choose this. I didn't want this. Why was this happening and where did it all come from?? So of course, I couldn't fully grasp the weight of the words that my husband of only 7 months spoke- with the wisdom of someone three times his age- when he said,
"Babe, you didn't choose this. It chose YOU."
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Sitting on the couch last week, his words came tumbling back into my consciousness after nearly nine years. I clutched my glass of wine and immediately sucked in my breath, thinking of Ella and her recent brushes with some of the very same fears. When she first started to wrestle with them, it revved up the motor on my mom guilt because, well, aren't mothers supposed to go ahead and assume responsibility anyway?? But then it occurred to me that my gut reaction to her struggles was one that painted a victim's narrative. Without realizing it, I was already framing her anxiety for her in the same way I framed my own. Well, shit.
When I reflected back on those first few years of our marriage, I realized that Jake never told me in the moment to simply "calm down," no matter how much I felt like the world was spinning out of control. Maybe it was because he recognized what I was in too deep to see for myself and what I can now appreciate from the perspective of motherhood: we often participate in a "calm-down" culture that ultimately comforts the caregiver, and suppresses the sufferer. It's difficult to know how to respond to the pain we see in someone else- to say nothing of our own. But as is often said, "That's the thing about pain- it demands to be felt." Sometimes calming down is the last thing we should do.
Admittedly, it's taken me years to wrap my head around the idea that my anxiety was an awakening, that my ability to feel (and consequently, fall apart) was actually the only way forward. No one ever told me that I was at the tail end of this particular lineage, but if finding the positive affirmations beside Ella's bed are any indication, I'd like to think I'm right. It was when I saw these- carefully taped on the wall next to her bookshelf with her Rebel Girls book and Shopkins journal- that I, too, stopped telling her to calm her down. Why? Because she's already decided to empower herself, to lean into the struggle in a way I never did at her age. Maybe this is why I was chosen after all.