Parents do more than stop the cries

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 7, 2009

In the past two months I have learned that there is crying and then there is crying.

Before my son’s birth I don’t know if I could tell the difference.

I wasn’t one of the travelers that cringed at the sight of a mother and her child on an airplane. I never winced at the whimpers of a baby in church. In fact, I always relished such sounds as the signs of new life.

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Yet all cries before June 5 sounded the same. I guess most adults without children are the same way.

Crying is crying. There is no difference between dirty diaper complaints, hunger wails, frantic cries of overstimulation and just the plain whimpers of boredom.

Maybe it is the early morning pacing carrying a bawling baby or maybe it is the total exhaustion from keeping up with it all, but it didn’t take long to tune my ears to the subtle nuances of crying — the slight inflections, different pitches and facial expressions. I have become a crying connoisseur, you might say.

Let me be the first to say, my son does not cry all the time. My wife and I are lucky in that he cries very little. But he does cry, several times a day.

And when he starts, I now use my new found interpretation skills to know what action is required.

Different types of crying require different parenting skills. Obviously, diapers need changing and stomachs need feeding. But there are a whole set of cries that require more subtle parenting skills — the touch of a hand or even a reassuring smile.

The picture in Thursday’s edition of 5-year-old Ethan Emfinger’s first few moments of kindergarten reveals that crying intervention skills are required well-past the first months of life.

The wonderfully iconic image taken by staff photographer Hannah Reel sums up the anxiety of the unknown many preschoolers and kindergartners feel every year. The tiny frown and the averted eyes bring back in an instant those worries we all have felt from time to time.

However, I think the most amazing element of the photo is not in the face of little Ethan. No. It’s in the expression of his mother Kim. It’s in the reassuring smile and encouraging eyes. It’s in the arm wrapped comfortingly around his waist

It’s like the mother bird pushing the little bird out of the nest.

Her smile says, “You can do it. I believe in you.”

Isn’t that what we wish for when we are faced with the great unknown — that comforting smile and understanding words of encouragement?

As children grow older, those vocal cries grow ever apart. As those primal tears for food, shelter and diaper changes lessen they are replaced by life’s insecurities like passing that test, making friends, finding a soul mate and raising children of their own.

That’s the great thing about parenting.

The responsibility to comfort and assure our children remains forever.

I realized this many times in the past two months when I have called my mother and my father in state of panic, not knowing what caused this red mark or why the baby would not stop crying.

Though my parents live two states away, I took away the same assurance I hope little Ethan Emfinger did Wednesday morning.

I imagined that same smile and that same look in their eyes as they said, “You can do it. I believe in you.”

Ben Hillyer is the Web editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or