bizarre love triangle — August 15, 2018

bizarre love triangle

 

So I want to warn you laddie
Though I know that you’re perfectly swell
That my heart belongs to Daddy
Cause my Daddy, he treats it so well
– Cole Porter

Despite being drama-averse in my private life, I’ve somehow found myself embroiled in a bizarre love triangle.

In the beginning, my husband was a loving and trustworthy parent who doted solicitously. He carried our daughter on his shoulders. He bounced A around, he tickled her, he swung her upside down. He was always lots of fun… but he wasn’t me. He was A’s second favorite parent. And I thought all three of us were fine with that arrangement.

Then she turned two and suddenly she only had eyes for daddy. When I made her mad, she’d cry for him. When he was working late and couldn’t get home in time to put her to bed, she’d beg to stay up late so she could see him. He became her sun and moon.

Now she’s a few months past her third birthday and her feelings for her father are only intensifying. When he comes home from work each evening, she loses her mind with excitement.

I started grad school fairly certain the Oedipal Complex was bogus and I quickly learned that most of what Freud had to say about women and girls has been debunked. But six (?!) years later, I’ve come to realize that the Oedipal Complex is true, but only if I don’t take what Freud said literally. Of course, my daughter doesn’t want to murder me and have sex with her dad. That’s a preposterous theory. She has no idea what it means to kill someone or have sex with someone.

But she knows about love. She craves attention, approval, and affection from her father. She used to crave getting those things from her mother, but now I’m in the way. This is developmentally normal, this is perfectly natural, and it’s healthy. (If she had same sex parents, this wouldn’t be happening, but as it turned out she has a mom and dad.) Developmental psychologists say she’ll likely move out of this phase around age 6. In the meantime, my job is to disillusion her in the kindest possible way. I need to let her know I love her and I don’t hold a grudge about her favoring her dad over me. I get it. But she can’t have him because I won’t give him up.

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subtropical tantrum — August 6, 2018

subtropical tantrum

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When my daughter doesn’t get what she wants, she’s been known to collapse to the floor, pounding her fists and wailing as though grieving the death of a life partner of 50 years. And with something like houseguests she loves saying goodbye and driving away, the loss is that monumental – at least to her.

I view tantrums the way I view those subtropical rainstorms that happen every afternoon in Florida. It’s a warm and sunny day, without a cloud in sight. Then all at once, the sky opens up and there’s storm-force winds, lightning, and a torrential downpour so violent that everyone runs for cover. It’s more than a little terrifying.

But even when – especially when – A is furious with me, she needs me to be the grownup in charge. That means keeping calm and staying safe.

I get down at her eyesight level so as not to appear intimidating. I keep my face very calm and sympathetic-looking. If we’re somewhere crowded with a lot of moving objects and people, I move us towards shelter. A quiet spot where she can throw a fit safely. If she’s flailing around and in danger of hitting her head, I’ll restrain her. But as lightly as possible – just enough to reassure her that I won’t allow her to hurt herself. I hold my arms stiffly around the her, but away from her body – as though my arms are the bars of a cage. She never likes it, of course. But it sends a nonverbal message that I’m still in charge.

The trick is to stop myself from doing anything to shorten the tantrum. It’s counter-intuitive, as tantrums are horrible. They’re stressful for everyone within earshot. But the logical, reasonable side of her brain has completely shut down at this point. It’s off line. There’s no point in trying to:

  • Hold her accountable for anything she says while she’s having a tantrum
  • Tell her why she shouldn’t be having a tantrum
  • Try to distract her or bargain with her so she’ll stop the tantrum
  • Soothe and comfort her in an effort to shorten the tantrum

Instead, I say, “I know you’re very sad. It’s hard to say goodbye to people we love.” I keep her safe, I keep calm, and I reflect what’s happening.

If it’s because I’ve taken away a toy she refused to clean up, “You’re really angry with me for taking away the toy. It’s upsetting to see your toy taken out to the garage.”

In short order, she runs out of steam. I can feel her soften. When she lets me know that she’s ready for comfort, my arms are in a position to easily segue to a hug.

And just when it looked like none of us may survive this thing, it’s over. The heavy rain stops, the clouds dissipate, and the sun comes out again.

agile baby — July 24, 2018

agile baby

fullsizeoutput_3236My daughter is gifted with a natural athleticism and physical coordination that has nothing to do with me. These are inherited traits, and I met her the morning after she was born. It’s when I met her birth mother and two half-sisters, too. They’re all very tall with extremely athletic builds. That could be said of exactly none of the people in my family.

It was clear pretty early on that A was strong and coordinated, with excellent balance. Now she’s three. And a highly confident three.

When she was one and still crawling, we sat on a blanket in a park with a friend. A crawled off, turning back to see me from time to time. I’d smile and wave and she’d continue crawling away. I was thrilled and so was my friend, another family therapist in training. Part of me cringed at the thought of what my daughter was crawling over and past. But I had an unobstructed view of her and the park was mostly empty. The truth is, I was dying to see how far she got. At one point, passersby saw this little African American baby crawling by herself and nervously looked around for her mother. Seeing only two white women seated on the grass in the distance, they grew alarmed. I waved and gestured wildly that she was with me, and that I saw her, and it was okay.

By not hovering over my daughter, I was letting her know that I trusted her and I knew she was competent enough to find her way back. And A was letting me know how capable she thought she was. Extremely capable, as it turns out. After a while, I called her back with a cheery voice. She turned around and crawled directly back, lay down, and put her head in my lap.

Like all babies, she wants to master new physical skills, to climb and conquer. But my girl’s not reckless. She meets all challenges with cautious, quiet determination. The first time she encounters a tricky ladder or rock wall, she’ll often say she’s not ready to try it yet. I never push.

She hasn’t reached the toddler milestones any earlier than other kids. She didn’t take her first step until she was 16 months. I did nothing to nudge her along in any way. I knew she’d walk when she was ready.

At two, she crawled out of our hammock as it was moving. We’d been in there together, swaying in the afternoon breeze of a perfect Southern California day. I’m not sure why she decided to exit the hammock at that exact time, but she began to lower her legs over the edge. I suspect a lot of moms would have vetoed her idea, and they’d be smart to. But I was curious if she could stick the landing. She held onto my arm until the hammock had swung to the highest point, dropped lightly onto both feet, then took a step back out of the path of the swinging hammock. It was masterful. I yelped in amazement, but she didn’t look surprised at all. She crawled right back into the hammock, which was still swinging.

Clever Baby Milestone — May 18, 2018

Clever Baby Milestone

I’ve discovered another landmark event of child development nobody talks about – it’s that moment when when you and your kid both realize that she knows something you don’t.

A few months ago, A corrected me when I was wrong about something. I was giving her a bath. She had a bunch of rubber toys shaped like animals in the tub with her and I misidentified an alligator by calling it a crocodile.

I was thrilled and amazed. I didn’t think to ask A how that moment felt – to know something that Mommy doesn’t. She’s very verbal, but even she might not know how to describe that. My best guess is it would feel like a cross between a proud moment and a scary moment.

…If she doesn’t even know that this is an alligator, then she’s not as smart and powerful as I thought. Maybe she shouldn’t be in charge after all. And if she’s not in charge, who is?

Certainly not this guy:

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Musical Rx — April 23, 2018

Musical Rx

Behavioral Definitions:

You used to paint/draw/sing/dance/act/write/play an instrument etc. when you were a kid and you loved it.

Whatever your thing was, when adults asked what wanted to be when you grew up, you’d tell them about it. When you did it, you were lost in your own little world, with no sense of time. You felt at peace. You were gratified. The more you did it, the better you got. It began to look like you could maybe get serious about this thing, maybe study it in college, or become a professional.

But maybe you got bogged down by teachers/coaches/professors whose harsh critiques crushed your spirit.

Maybe the pressure you were under terrified you, so instead of failing, you quit altogether.

Maybe you gave it up when you became an adult in pursuit of “marketable skills.”

And now you wonder.

What would have happened if you’d kept making art/music etc.?

How good would you be at it now?

Could you be making a living at it?

If you did, would you be happy?

Symptoms:

Pervasive emptiness, regret, a sense of feeling unfulfilled

Musical therapeutic intervention: Listen to the following song once a day

 

 

focus — April 21, 2018

focus

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A asked me what a word meant for the first time tonight. I came home to find her crying and yelling at her dad through the bedroom door because he wouldn’t go in and tuck her in for (I’m assuming) the eleventh time.

I went in her room to talk some sense into her and she scurried back to her bed, which was full of toys. I suggested that maybe the toys were keeping her from being able to focus on sleeping.

A: “What is?”
me: “What is what?”

A: “You say.”

me: “I say what?”

A: “You say. What is?”

me: “What is what?”

A: “Focus”

me: “Oh! You mean what does the word focus mean?”

A: “Yeah.”

me: “Um, it means to give something all your attention. Like, you’re not thinking about anything else.”

Here are three reasons why I think this moment between us was a really big deal, and I think more attention should be paid to this developmental milestone for kids:

First, she’s gone all two years ten months of her life hearing me use words she didn’t understand. And – like any of us would if we were in a foreign country and didn’t speak the language – until now she smiled and pretended she understood. But today was the day she decided she needed a bit more clarity.

Second, she asked me about an abstract concept. She wanted a definition, which isn’t something she can point to and ask for that way. Even “focus” – the word she wanted defined – is pretty abstract. I know she wasn’t imitating someone else she heard asking for a definition because she did it in such an unconventional way.

Third, our smart cookie was changing the subject. She didn’t want to relinquish any of the toys in her bed. By engaging me in a conversation about semantics she might be able to pull my attention away from trying to taking away her toys.

She didn’t seem impressed with my definition. I convinced her to keep two of the smallest toys and let me put the rest away. After I left the room, she fell fast asleep.

line? —

line?

IMG_0647For fifteen years, I worked as a writer in Hollywood. Not a successful one at all. But I wrote continuously and got paid occasionally. I was slow. It took me weeks to outline and develop the plot points and structure before I typed a single word of the actual script. Then I’d quickly write a first draft, which I’d describe as “farting out a first draft” as a sort of acknowledgment and apology. The only way to get through that first draft was to continually reminded myself that it didn’t have to be good. It just had to exist, so the real writing could begin. The rewriting.

I loved the rewriting phase of the process the most. That was when the characters came to life and the prose found a voice, too. Everything leading up to the rewriting was an awkward and painful means to an end.

When I wasn’t writing in my sweatpants at home, I was pitching ideas to studios, networks, production companies, and agents. Even though these interactions were happening in real life and not on a page, they were still highly orchestrated and choreographed. The executives’ days were scheduled in segments so I could guess how long it would take. I was offered water, either cold or room temperature. The people I was pitching to were all in their office chairs; I was led to mine.

I’d get so nervous before pitches that my entire digestive system would just clock out. It was best that I not eat at all. The people I was pitching to were – on the whole – young, fit, attractive, and well-dressed. This was terrifying enough. But on top of that they expected me to prove that I could make them a lot of money. Execs are friendly to  writers for this reason, making small talk for about 1 to 2 minutes as everyone turns off their smartphone and gets settled into their seats.

So on the elevator ride, I’d repeat to myself statements that were true but also calmed my nerves.

They have money they want to give to a writer.

They’ve already read something of mine that made them think I’m good.

They invited me here to tell them my idea.

Yet each time I was escorted by an assistant into a conference room, I felt like a lamb walking into a den of foxes. To protect myself, I prepared and memorized every word of my pitch, then practiced and polished it until I could perform it as though speaking off the cuff.

Sometimes on weekends, I went to improv comedy shows – at The Groundlings or Upright Citizens Brigade. Often, a friend was performing. But sitting in the theater and waiting for the lights to go down, I’d feel so nervous that I’d want to run away before the show started. I knew this made no sense. All that was expected of me was to sit in the dark for the next few hours. Yet I still felt nauseated, imagining what it would be like to be a performer with no script to work from. I imagined freezing up there on stage and having no words at all.

Now I’ve harnessed that empathy into a new career as an associate marriage and family therapist. My clients (I presume?) expect me to say something helpful during our sessions but there’s no way I can prepare. I can’t control the content of the session by dictating what we discuss. I have to wait and find out what the client wants to talk about. I’ve been in training for four years and I still sometimes struggle with a tiny flash of panic as I realize a client is coming in a few minutes and I have no idea what to say.

When I’m not at work, I’m home with my daughter, A. She’s sunk deep into a new developmental phase, in which she has a vivid imagination and talks constantly. Sometimes it’s to herself, sometimes it’s to animals or plants. A patch of dirt in our landscaping is her boat and the roly-polies are her family.  The little pebbles in our neighbor’s rock garden are her friends. She narrates our lives and I struggle to keep up by relying mostly on the “yes and” technique of improv. When I don’t fully understand what she’s said, I pull from a repertoire of noncommittal phrases that show that I’m listening and I care:

Ah! Okay, tell me more…

Oh! That’s amazing! I had no idea.

Uh huh.

When it’s obvious to A that I don’t know what she’s talking about, she gets pissed. She’ll say, “Not uh huh!”

I flubbed my line.

baby hair progress report — April 17, 2018

baby hair progress report

 

Since I last posted about styling A’s hair, I’ve mastered the rope twist and found a great styling cream for a twist out. I experimented with scallop-shaped parts and triangle parts. None of it is even close to perfect but her hair is healthy and I’ve gotten praise from African American women, which is enormously gratifying. I’ve been learning as I go, when it comes to how to style her hair, what products to use, and what order to use them in. Instead of waiting another whole year to get a haircut, this year I’m going to take her to my salon every three months to get a light dusting of a trim and give her hair some shape. I’ve tried taking her to salons for little kids but the haircuts aren’t as good and she ends up eating way too much candy. The ladies at my salon all know and love A because she comes with me when I get my hair done.

my little shutterbug — February 19, 2018

my little shutterbug

 

 

 

Putting our toddler in charge of the digital camera on our nature walk was my husband’s idea. She’d been playing with her little wooden camera a lot lately. And like all babies, she’d always loved looking at photographs of herself. He wanted to see what would happen if we let her document the morning. On the drive to the mountain, I said to John (out of earshot, I sincerely hope) that there was a one hundred percent chance A was going to drop the camera and break it. I was sure this was true because sixteen years ago, I gave a digital camera to a three year old and he dropped it and broke it. The mistake had been mine. I’d learned my lesson. John didn’t find my evidence very compelling and said he was willing to take that risk. So we tightened the little strap around her wrist and off we went.

fullsizeoutput_28b6 We had a blast that morning. A took tons of photos, many of me walking five feet up ahead, as she rode on her dad’s shoulders. She only dropped the camera a tiny distance one time. It’s completely fine! I didn’t give my girl – or my husband – enough credit. I apologized to them already but it feels good to confess it here.

Like many first time parents, John and I take a ridiculous number of photographs. We never ask A to look at the camera, or prompt her to do anything at all. Whatever she’d do would be way more interesting than whatever we’d come up with, anyway. But it seemed – very early on – that she understood what we were doing and didn’t mind at all. Before she could even sit up on her own, she gazed directly into the camera. Once she could walk, her behavior became even more surprising. She’d sometimes change her posture once she knew she was being photographed. Or she’d lean against something nearby. Her comfort in front of the camera made me nervous. I didn’t understand it. But the day she draped her arm over the head of a camel statue she was riding and lowered her chin, staring defiantly into the camera LIKE A BOSS, I realized with a combination of amazement and dread what she was doing: she was modeling.

I cannot overstate that she wasn’t doing this because of my husband or me.

…Not only because we’re not asking her to stand or move a certain way, but also because we adopted her. A’s birth mother, along with her own mother, modeled when she was younger. Seeing A give serious face on the back of that camel challenged my assumptions. I always thought that modeling and posing were learned behaviors. I watched several seasons of America’s Next Top Model and those girls seemed to be working hard. Was A born knowing how to pose for a camera, even though her parents take only candid photographs? If so, that would mean she’d inherited a learned behavior, which was something I thought we didn’t do. Maybe modeling is more of a talent, which can be inherited. Since nobody in my family is a model, I really have no idea.

I spent about a week spinning out about all the implications, risks, concerns, possibilities, and dangers of our daughter growing up to model professionally. Then I decided to knock it off because she’s two and this is not an actual concern in our current lives.

In the meantime, it seems fair that A gets to experience life on both sides of the camera. It didn’t make sense to tempt fate with that digital camera as an ongoing thing. So we compromised and gave her a kids’ shock-proof cased camera for Christmas. At the top of this post are three of my favorites of the images she captured in those first few days:

A shot of her feet and her father’s feet, as he explained how the camera works.

Our neighbor’s front yard candy canes, which she insisted on visiting every day.

And a trippy light display. I’m delighted to say I have no idea when or where she took that one.

I keep waiting for the phase every toddler seems to go through – when they refuse to let you take pictures and cover their face like Greta Garbo or cover the lens like Alec Baldwin. She hasn’t gotten there yet at 2 years 9 months but we’ve got plenty of toddler to go. Sometimes she’s moving so fast that the frenetic energy of toddlerhood registers as a colorful blur. Other times, she’s placid and relaxed. In those moments, I wonder if she might skip the photography refusal phase. Either way, she’ll have already been well chronicled.

Since we started letting A take her own pictures, she’s less interested in looking at photographs of herself. If she sees one, she’ll say “that’s me,” but she doesn’t ask to look at them the way she used to.

good hair — November 19, 2017

good hair

 

I like my baby heir, with baby hair and afros. I like my Negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils. – Beyoncé “Formation”

One of the first questions black women would ask me when I was out in public with A as a little baby was, “Do you know what to do with her hair?” They approached us in restaurants, on airplanes, even walking down the street, with a concerned expression. I’ve always been happy to get their advice.

Natural hair bloggers, Instagram tutorials, and YouTube videos have also been helpful as I try to figure it out.

11 Huge Healthy Afro Hacks (Type 4a/4b/4c) Natural Hair

Complete Toddler Regimen

I spend about twice as much money on A’s hair care products and tools than I do on my own. I started deep conditioning, finger-detangling, and experimenting with puffs and two strand twists when she was around 18 months old. Now I can do very simple braids, too. Here’s a recent effort.

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I’ve always been a makeup and hair product junkie. I find beauty supply stores intoxicating. Now I have another head of hair to take care of, one that couldn’t possibly be more different than mine. My hair is slightly wavy, very fine, and thinning. A’s curls are endless and defy gravity.

We spend an hour or two every Sunday putting it in a protective style, which needs refreshing a few times, but lasts about 5 or 6 days.

This is one of my earlier efforts. My parts were still a little wonky then and her head looked a bit like a grenade, but I don’t hate it.

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My goal is to get good enough at doing her hair that the styles last longer than a week. I want her scalp to be healthy and her hair to grow long and fabulous. It will let my daughter know that she’s worthy of lots of care, it will signal to other people that she’s well cared for, and wash day is mother-daughter time that I enjoy every week. I genuinely love every second of it.