You Don’t Have to be a Baby to Cry
Updated: Sep 16, 2020
By Terry M. Pace (2020)
I have long remembered a story from when I was 9 years old. It was in 1967, the first of two summers that my family went to live in remote southeastern Arizona to try farming out there instead of back home in west Texas. That summer we lived near the very tiny crossroads community of Sunizona. We lived in a small house, set in the middle of open desert fields, with only one neighbor, a middle- aged couple we called Fats and Slim. They lived in a trailer house just to the east of the little house we rented and no one else lived within a mile of us. The entire population of Sunizona was around 200 or so folks; nearly all farmers and ranchers widely scattered across the central Cochise Valley. The beauty of this place in the middle of the Cochise Valley is in its isolation from vast hordes of other humans and in its quietness, surrounded by mountains with bountiful and sometimes exotic wildlife.
Looking out to the west of our house was nothing but desert fields with a large hill we called camelback mountain for its double hump crest. Then several miles beyond lay the blue looking Dragoon Mountains. To our east lay similar vistas with a few farms in sight and several miles beyond lay the green looking Chiricahua Mountains. Our north and south views were simply of desert with a few sparsely laid, minimally noticeable farm or ranch houses and the occasional larger desert hill. It was simply a grand place to be for a 9 going on 10 year- old boy who loved the outdoors.
There were many adventures that summer. The most common adventure was one outdoors, on our farm, in the mountains or just around our house. We successfully raised three baby crows and watched them all eventually return to their wild desert life. We had herds of javalina that visited our yard nightly. We had many scorpion and snake encounters. We raised a baby bobcat. We raised baby quail, all we tried to return safely to their wild homes. Some mornings we found fresh bear and mountain lion tracks on our farm that was closer to the mountains and even more isolated than our house.
I enjoyed exploring the desert around us and especially the hills around our farm. In those times I usually carried a 22 rifle and had learned gun safety my entire life with my dad. I rarely fired my gun, other than for fun and I do not recall ever needing to do so for my safety as rattlesnakes gave good warning to me and bears and lions are in the mountains in the daytime. The small animals, lizards, insects and birds of the desert entertained me along with the ever- stranger cactus one encounters on foot in the desert.
I also recall the adventure of watching the mountains around us become a ring of fire as summer lightning storms set wildfires we desert folks could watch. While a wildfire can of course be a terrible thing, to a naïve kid or uninvolved observer they can also be very beautiful if from afar. Plus, in this case I knew these mountains were virtually uninhabited by human beings, though I worried for the animals. I recall sitting outside in those desert summer nights and watching in awe as lightning flared and wildfires burned in the mountains all around me.
These memories of animals, fires, mountains and desert have never left me and in some ways added to the introverted, yet curious and empathic fellow I eventually became. But one memory from that summer rises above all others and it had much more to do with people and their funny, beautiful ways.
There was one small café in the vicinity that we lived, in the tiny settlement of Sunizona. The café was actually a café/motel combination with about 10 rooms for the motel and about 10 booths or tables for the café. The building, as I recall it in the 1960’s was of white stucco with a red tile roof. I thought it was the prettiest building I had ever seen in those days, with a real green lawn that seemed miraculous in the dry brown desert.
The café served the best cheeseburgers I have ever had and the waitress knew everyone’s name and favorite order. The café was also the chief place for socializing in the community, so my family would go there for supper a couple times a week. Everyone knew everyone and the strangers passing through were not strangers for long as they were included in the café conversations.
The strongest memory from the café was of the jukebox and the waitress, whose name I do not recall. Putting a quarter in the jukebox and getting to play three songs was an amazing technological feat and so much fun. My favorite song that summer, that I played every time on the café jukebox was “These Boots are Made for Walking” by Nancy Sinatra. The album cover, which I had only seen in a magazine was of her in white go- go boots. I thought she was so pretty, but the song had such a sassy fun- loving way about it, it always made me smile. “Ready boots? Start walking…!”
The waitress was a youngish white woman who was as outgoing and kind as any waitress you might have known, or that is how I remember her. But most importantly, she often sang while she worked. She sang along with the jukebox and sang on her own whenever the jukebox was silent. The song I most recall her singing was “You Don’t Have to be a Baby to Cry” by the Caravelles, a British girl duo band. The song reached the US Billboard top 10 in 1963. But the song was written in the 1950’s and also recorded by American country greats Earnest Tubb and Tennessee Ernie Ford. The beginning lyrics go:
“You don’t have to be a baby to cry. All you need is for love to go wrong. You don’t have to be a baby to cry. Or lie awake the whole night long…”
My brother Ricky and older cousin Danny who was with us that summer would tease me by applying the song to me and assuring me when I cried it was okay, I was not really a baby even if they said I was! Then they would laugh and sometimes so would I. Though I had no clue what these lyrics might really mean when I was 9, I felt a sadness when I heard the waitress singing this song. Like so many country, pop or blues ballads this song speaks of the experiences people go though in life when they love so deeply and hurt so badly whenever love is lost or the ones we love are themselves hurting or we are worried about them.
Now, I’ve lived a good many years and I know loves pains too well. I have also spent most of my life and my full career caring for others who were in distress or pain, almost always in part due to the love for someone or something or worse due to the absence of love, of love lost.
One thing I learned is that tears and sleepless nights really are okay and a normal response to anxiety and sadness, though they can be very difficult for us. Tears flow or try to anyway, when we experience emotional distress or physical pain. These are fundamentally the same to the body. Its only culture that modifies these responses. While tears are an autonomic and automatic response, we do learn to modify them in varying ways and degrees; this can mean less tears or more of course. When we shed tears of pain and distress research shows they are loaded with stress hormones such as cortisol and we believe in several ways, that tears are an adaptive bodily response to stress. There may be direct stress relief in releasing some of the excess stress cortisol via tears. The experience of crying, of becoming self- aware and seeking comforting in our own ways can serve as a means of relief and calming. Finally, tears may be a strong instinctual social signal for help; thus the adaptiveness of tears for infants and people of all ages. Of course there are individual, cultural, situational differences in our tears, so no single rule is hard and fast for everyone, everywhere, all the time.
The human nervous system is exquisitely sensitive to changes in our equilibrium, routines and expectations. Thus when any of these are thrown off by the winds and storms of life that bring challenge and change, we often suffer. To some degree we can suffer even when changes are hoped for, as the loss of our routines and unforeseen challenges of success may leave us out of kilter. So when we measure stress we also consider change in general, good or bad, as both may contribute to stress. However, of course, it is the unwanted, unknowable, physically and/or emotionally painful changes that we suffer the most. These experiences, memories or beliefs of distress activate the sympathetic nervous system and tension increases associated with stress, helping give us the added energy for the fight or flight response, which in too large or persistent amounts may impair health. But tears can perform an amazing feat by shutting down the sympathetic arousal to stress and instead activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which fosters relaxation and calming, possibly even facilitating the capacity to think in more flexible and positive ways to manage stress. Science has found that when we cry, the parasympathetic activation stimulates the release of oxytocin and endorphins; our feel-good bodily chemicals that reduce pain and create the capacity to accept the many things that hurt us, but that we cannot simply or possibly ever change.
Our nervous systems are vastly complex and are open to every event in our lives, including our own breath, thoughts and tears. The nervous system is also reciprocally integrated and hierarchically organized such that prior experience, current conditions, as well as genetics and epigenetics all accumulate, so that events long in our past or on the surface seemingly small may impact our coping capacity as well as our bio-psycho-social sensitivity and resilience.
But we even have solid scientific research that stress changes the brain in myriad ways including with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Science has also demonstrated that historical trauma from past generations can be passed down as epigenetic vulnerabilities in the nervous systems of future generations, making them more vulnerable to emotional distress, learning challenges and relational abilities, catching folks in a vicious circle of despair. This has been found in the future generations from survivors of famine, genocide, torture, dislocation among other horrors whose tears can never be fully eased.
People often become good at denial and social impression management, holding back tears, distracting themselves with TV, work, alcohol, social media and so on; only showing their “tough” or “happy” faces to others. But we can’t fool ourselves forever, if nothing else our bodies will break down from the myriad effects of stress; and we all have our breaking points, and after sometimes years of resistance, one more event comes along and becomes “the straw that breaks the camels back”. We may then pour out our tears as sleepless nights become too long to bear. We may lose heart, lose hope, lose interests, become numb or angry and unable to positively relate to others. Or we may become impaired with physical ailments of almost any type, from too high levels of stress hormones bathing and damaging all the cells in the body. Thus, blood pressure, heart function, lung health, skin health, muscular-skeletal pain or problems, and cognitive or learning impairments are all bodily systems that may become impaired in part or whole by stress. So the meaning and value of tears in our lives are very critical to health and wellness.
And since these tear inducing changes are mainly private internal neuro-chemical emotional experiences, we may never know what others really are going through, thus empathy, understanding, appreciation of differences and openness of mind rather than judgment are the most helpful responses we can share with each other and put out as positive energy into the world. When we see tears, I encourage us to pause and reflect on the possible meanings for the person or others involved. Where possible, a gesture or comment of support or concern, without shutting the person off for our own comfort will usually be most helpful. Typically, people would like your comforting presence in silence as they “cry it out.” However, some people or at some- times most people just need to be alone while they self-sooth through their tears, thus offering to stay or leave based on the person and situation, may be helpful.
We also know that people can be helped to cope if not significantly heal from such distress and trauma and that emotionally calming, empathic social environments, help meeting basic living needs, assistance with new life narratives and coping strategies, good medical care and sometimes medications can all be helpful. While supportive families and friends make a world of difference for most people, sometimes the tears and insomnia or other symptoms of distress are such that professional help is also needed and the good news is that when folks are able to seek high quality mental health help around 75% are much better within one to six months on average, of course some folks need less and some much more help. I’ve seen folks from one impactful counseling session to almost 10 years of weekly psychotherapy with a lot of medical collaboration to finally see folks better and stable.
If you love: A person, a pet, a job, a place; any love, while the best feeling in the world, will always lead to some tears and pain. Love hurts! But instead of pretending to portray an image of being strong and secure, my view has always been that the greater strength is in honesty with oneself and others and in asking for help when needed; courage is shown most fully in love and tears. Tears often foster wisdom. Tears may increase empathy as well as harden determinations.
In my own life, I have had many tears and sleepless nights. Though I also know I’ve had far fewer of these times than many people and my life has been gifted with countless blessings; both love and suffering matter in our lives. In my professional work as a psychologist I have known tears and pain in others lives beyond what it seems should be possible to endure, yet endure is what people usually try their best to do. I have seen tears to fill up barrels. I have seen the toughest appearing people cry over the smallest things (to me, but not to them!). I should also add, that tears are not/should not usually be the goal of counseling or psychotherapy. But as the therapist helps the person express and understand their own life and needs, most often along the way, tears find their place.
You don’t have to be a baby to cry! I’ve known the tears of others and I’ve shared in the suffering over their sleepless nights (I’ll find another story or essay to talk about sleep further someday). I’ve seen tears over the loss of love or the hope for new or renewed love; over pain and the loss of loved life abilities; over medical bills that can’t be paid; over the despair and suffering when not knowing where the next meal will come from or how to house and keep one’s children and family safe; over violence and threats; over meanness and harsh misunderstandings or judgments; over loneliness and fears; over shame and guilt; over discrimination; over racial abuse and injustice; over death and over birth; over relief from suffering; over the passing of beloved pets; and over hopeful excitement and tears of joy.
It is such a simple old song; You Don’t Have to be a Baby to Cry. Though this song comes from a much simpler time in my life, but it has stayed with me all these years in the voice of my Arizona café waitress, in the summer of 1967.
I’ll have a cheeseburger please with a singing waitress and a quarter for the jukebox! You don’t have to be a baby to cry; just a human being. It also might be really good for you.