I

t is of no small help parenting your child through his or her middle-grade years if you are able to distinguish between different types of weeping.

This employs the judgment you were required to develop during their time as a toddler and preschooler when you knew whether or not that last fall from some overheated piece of playground equipment required your immediate attention. The middle-grade years are just like that, only with a heightened element of psychological warfare—similar to chess, only with smellier and stickier.

I did not know this about being a mother—that we would move into a time where their separation from me would be a dance in which my child would move around the floor trying to conceal their movements from me.

A friend told me recently that she always knew when my children were sick—truly, sadly, wretchedly besieged by one virus or another—when one of them presented themselves to her in a teary state. She was right. There is little stoicism for The Three when they are ill; they are, to a man, disconsolate.

This was why, on Monday,

Roy’s low-grade fever bought him a day home. A 99.7 is nothing, but the sadness attendant to that unimpressive number told me that this was a bug going places and, true to that earliest indication, it was. His fever climbed and fell for the next 24 hours and so it was that Roy stayed home not one but two entire days.

On today, the third day, there were more tears. Roy wanted to argue his case for staying home on this day, too. He felt he had a strong one. I squinted at him as he cried and protested loudly, and thought critically, ‘Those aren’t tears of sickness. Those are tears of indignation.’

I did not know this about being a mother—that my children’s work of separating from me would become something like a dance in which they would move around the floor trying to conceal their movements from me. This is part of the process by which they move into their own lives, even at 10, but from my vantage point it seems both silly and tiresome. I mean, I can see you dancing around right there in front of me! Why are you compelled to pretend that you aren’t dancing when you quite obviously are?

Roy dried his tears and went to school, and I spent the day hoping I’d made the right decision. (It wouldn’t be a dance if I wasn’t executing the corresponding steps, now, would it?)