My face, my feelings

My face. I can’t change it and I can’t hide it. My face. It’s always giving me away.

When I was younger, people would always stop me and say, “Smile!” I would always be caught off guard and would mutter something along the lines of “huh” or “what?” as I shuffled away. I was a very shy kid. My eighth grade teacher used to affectionately call me, “Q1” which stood for “Quiet 1.” There was also a “Q2” but I’m not sure what became of her. I couldn’t find my voice and it must have showed on my face. People must have assumed that I was sad or worried or straight up miserable and the look on my face must have led them to believe so. I wasn’t any of those things. I was just Nicole, doing what I had to do and going where I needed to be. If I had to guess, I was most likely thinking about something and it showed on my face. At first I was clueless. Why would people keep stopping me to say this? Why did they think I looked so pained? As I got older I would comment back with a huge sarcastic smile. I don’t know why people feel the need to comment on someone else’s face, especially if you’re a stranger to them, but I realized people sometimes can’t help themselves. I remember a time when I in fact got called into the principal’s office as a teacher and was spoken to about my face.  I was told that I looked stress.  Here we go again.  I sat there trying to convince my boss that this was just my face as I was trying to assure her that I was fine and this wasn’t the first time I was told this.  I then fought back tears and said, “Well, this is my face and I can’t change it.”

As I got older and found out a little more about myself, I realized I in fact had a voice…and a very opinionated one at that. I like to speak my mind, I like to make new friends, and my favorite hobby is joking and laughing with people. It’s like I had to make up for lost time. My face tells a different story now. It’s usually always smiling. This seems like a great thing, right? Well, yes it is, except for when you need to be serious. I find myself laughing at the worst times. I’m not trying to be disrespectful but sometimes someone will tell me something and I’ll just burst out laughing. My hands will usually fly right over my mouth and I’ll be uttering “I’m sorry” as quickly as the laugh escaped. I’ll have to explain that it’s not funny, and that I have nervous laughter. It’s the same for when people fall or trip. I just lose it. It doesn’t even start out with a small, harmless giggle. My body convulses and I’ll start slapping my thighs and cracking up. What is wrong with me?! And the worst part is that I will sometimes remember what the person told me at a later time and the laughter comes back again, full force. My face. I can’t hide it. My close friend always likes to tell me how my facial expressions when telling her a story are hilarious and then she tries to imitate the faces I’m making when I’m talking so I can understand what she sees. I really should record myself talking and see what kind of nonsense my face is making. Throw in my hands flying around and I guess I can be a one woman show. There was even a time when my husband and I had to speak with a doctor about something serious and I just burst out laughing.  The doctor looked at him and then looked at me, confused of course, and then also started laughing.  It was an awkward chain reaction.  A few minutes later, I was in tears.  The sudden switch can be very confusing.

I’ll never forget the time I was a sophomore in high school. I went to Catholic high school and we had to attend Mass the first Friday of each month. There was no talking for a full hour, let alone laughing. It was a very serious time and the quiet would always make me anxious. This particular Friday I was sitting at Mass when I happened to notice a tiny little freshman walk up to receive Communion. I noticed he was still wearing his backpack which was unusual. He may have come to school late. But it was funny to me because he was so tiny and his backpack was bigger than he was and you could barely see him under it. Well, this freshman may have been small, but he was not shy. When the priest offered him Communion, he barely had finished saying, “body of Christ” when this young man decided to lift his hand up and quickly grab the host right out of the priest’s hand. The priest look horrified and stunned as the boy shoved it in his mouth and practically skipped with his giant backpack flying behind him. This was just too much! What had I witnessed? I wanted to belly laugh! I wanted to slap my leg and roll on the floor! I wanted to shriek, “Did anyone see that? He jumped up and grabbed the Communion out of the priest’s hands!” But I couldn’t. I couldn’t do any of those things. I had to swallow it. I had to swallow the laughter. But how could I? And then I felt it. The laughter starting to build up. I put my head down since I had already received and was kneeling. I figured that would save me. But then my shoulders started shaking and I couldn’t stop it. I was laughing so hard that my eyes were tearing and my face was beat red. My whole body was now giving me away. I remember my friend elbowing me to stop. She was worried our teacher who sitting at the end of the row would see. And sure enough as soon as my teacher got wind of my nonsense, the look was given. The look like you’d better pull yourself together. I lifted up my hands in understanding as if to say, you’re right I’m sorry, I’ll stop. But I couldn’t! This was just one of the many instances I had where I had to fall victim to my face animation.

My kids… where do I begin…sadly for them, they have the same problem. My daughter Reagan cannot control herself when laughing. She falls to the floor and can’t breathe. It’s like looking at a younger version of myself. She starts holding her belly and it’s hilarious to try and watch her gather herself.  She can crack herself up so easily.  She can also cry at the drop of a hat. She is my daughter.

My son Johnny inherited my trait of laughing during sad and uncomfortable times. He doesn’t always know how to handle seeing people sad or upset, so he’ll either smirk or start laughing. When my grandmother passed away, I lost it. I was inconsolable and hysterically crying. I remember thinking I shouldn’t be crying this hard in front of the kids, but I wasn’t able to stop it. After about twenty minutes or so, my body relaxed and Johnny asked me why I was sad. After I told him that my grandma had gone to heaven, he started laughing. I knew better than to ask why he found this funny. He didn’t, but knowing from myself, I knew it was a nervous reaction. He didn’t know how to handle seeing me cry. The poor kid can go from laughing about something to crying about it in under 30 seconds and that’s exactly what he did.  After laughing, he started to tear up and then was frantically hugging me. He is my son.

I have learned a lot about how to raise my children just from looking back at my own childhood. I find this to be the greatest learning tool in my years being a mother. There’s running jokes on social media about how your kids can drive you crazy but really they are just mini versions of ourselves. And my God if that isn’t the truth!  I will never question my children about their actual reactions.  I try and stop, breathe, and ask them why they are feeling the way they do, as opposed to why did you react that way? One time, I found myself asking Reagan why her face looked the way it did.  She was in a particularly bad mood at the time and my patience must have been waning.  I said, “Fix your face!” I remember stopping dead in my tracks and going back to how that made me feel when people said it to me.  I didn’t need history to repeat itself.  I never want my kids to feel badly about any part of themselves.  That was her face and she can’t change it, and she shouldn’t have to.  I then took a moment and asked her to take a minute and think about how she was feeling and to talk to me about it when she was ready.  And she did. As for Tristan, well he is still so young that I am not sure how he will manage his emotions and reactions. But judging from what I have seen so far, I’d better buckle up and be ready. This kid is definitely not going to have anyone guessing with his face. His mouth is going to let everyone know exactly what he means. Lord, give me the strength!

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