I’m a crybaby, always have been. Whenever I see anything remotely emotional on TV or in a newspaper, I crack. First I’ll try to suppress my emotions: breathing slowly, keeping my jaw clenched and my lips pursed. Soon there’s no keeping it in, and I’ll give in and let the waterworks flow. It’s always a struggle, one I can’t win and will never quite be comfortable with. After watching Terms of Endearment I spent an entire day sporting swollen red eyes. Luckily it was a Sunday because, without fail, after the sobbing fits comes the shame, especially when I’m in public. Maybe the shame feels even worse than the crying.

My father quickly became used to it and was always ready to hand me a big handkerchief. I had to share it with my mother, who was even more emotional than me. It became a sort of ritual, making it more fun. Crying was abided with family present. My father was an emotional man. I remember a book he owned about the Second World War titled “The day my father cried”. The title alone impacted me greatly. Fathers aren’t supposed to cry. I have seen my father cry twice and it flat out scared me. Something terrible must have happened when one’s father cries. My brother is as emotional as my father.

My own family is far less emotional. I lose control even faster now that I’ve become sick. I cry about the smallest things, like a Dutchman winning a gold medal for ice skating, my team winning a football game or Adrie van der Poel getting out of the water after a swimming competition. In addition, the likes sad animated films, cute pedagogic TV shows or saying goodbye to my daughter who’s leaving for a week of camp never fail to make me weep. My children know the signs well: shaky breathing and pursed lips. At once, two pairs of children’s eyes bore into me. “No, mum, not again.” The children will block the TV screen, take away my newspaper, pull funny faces to distract me or look at me with judging expressions. The only way to get their permission to return to my emotion-evoking activities is to solemnly swear to not cry. In an environment like that, fighting the tears is even more important and a lot harder.

When I cry during conversation, I am met with more tolerance. My son dries my tears and tells me: “don’t talk about that, mum”. My husband’s handkerchief has been offered to me countless times. It’s a big one, like my dad’s.

I really do need to get my crying fits under control when it’s about trivial things. Recently I even cried when watching a sad scene in a soap show. My daughter immediately took action and sternly told me: “mum, it’s only a soap”. She’s right, of course. Then again, try telling that to my tears.

February 1999
Jeanet van der Vlist, Leiden