BFF likes to call me a problem-solver. I get this from my father. It’s difficult to even have a phone conversation with my dad without him trying to solve a problem that may or may not exist. An example:
Me: Hi, Dad!
Dad: Hey, darling. Listen, have you checked the tires on the van recently?
Me: Um, yeah, I think so. Yeah, I think they’re fine.
Dad: You don’t sound sure.
Me: Well, Dad, we’ve just got a lot-
Dad: I know you’re busy, but that’s why this is a priority. Tell (Hot Firefighter Husband) to get the tires checked right away. I’ll pay for it.
And in this way, he not only solves a problem; in the off chance that I didn’t have a problem, he actually created one for him to solve. Genius.
I’m not that bad. But if you call me with an issue, I’m going to do my best to intervene, whether you want me to or not. Because that’s what I do.
Unless the problems are mine. If I have a problem, I simply label it unsolvable and grouse about it endlessly. My current topic of malcontent involves my writing career. Where am I going with this? Why do I blog? Is somebody going to discover me or what? Should I use the word “fuck” when I write? Now, if a fellow writer approached me with this complaint, I would spend two hours coming up with a plan of action that would transform her into a media star within 30 days. Then I’ll give you 1,400 reasons why that plan is completely inappropriate for me.
Ten days after my son was born, he arrived at a Guatemala City orphanage. For the next six months, he spent every day in a bassinet-sized crib staring at the ceiling, or his fingers, or as he got older, his toes. When it was time for his bottle, caretakers used blankets to prop it up next to him so he could eat. He had some scheduled human interaction every day – five minutes with a caretaker here, five minutes rolling around on the floor there.
But think of the best parts of being with babies – sniffing their heads, blowing raspberries on their bellies, kissing their stinky toes. My boy got none of that for the first six months of his life. Six months.
According to renowned 20th century psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, whose work led to groundbreaking understanding of how children develop, a child’s first year of life is when he learns to trust that his parents will meet his basic needs. If a child’s basic needs aren’t properly met at this age, he could learn to mistrust the world – or lose hope that life will get better.
So what happens when a child’s basic needs – not just nourishment, but love, LOVE, love, love – aren’t met?
In my child’s case, he grows up with what’s called an attachment disorder. It’s not that he’s not attached to us – the opposite, in fact, is true. It’s that he is overwhelmingly attached to us – to me, in particular – because he has no trust that without us present, all will be well. I have always resisted the notion that my children could be adversely affected by being adopted. And I come to this conclusion reluctantly, and with a professional diagnosis. But it all makes sense.
For years, I have worried that I haven’t given my middle child enough attention. But now I realize that his thirst for my love has been unquenchable. He might know that I love him at the moment I’m holding him in my lap – but he has trouble understanding that I’ll love him still when I’m at the grocery, or if he gets taller, or after he learns to ride a bike. It’s like he’s on a train traveling from Toddlerville to LittleBoyDom, but the engine derailed and he’s stuck, and he does’t mind being stuck because who knows what kind of food they serve in LittleBoyDom? What if there’s no bologna, and what if the mothers there won’t let him play with Barbies?
The boy doesn’t know that he has an attachment disorder. He just knows that change is hard, and that Mom solves problems.
“Mom, my shirt is itchy,” he says. And I can fix that; I cut out the tag.
“I don’t like my haircut,” he says. And I fix that with some hair gel.
“I can’t find my Pokemon cards,” he says. So I find them.
Then last week he lost a tooth, and the Tooth Fairy brought him FIVE DOLLARS because the Tooth Fairy didn’t have any ones. He was so excited and proud; but after a few days, he put his sticky arms around my neck and whispered, “I want you to put my tooth back in.” That’s what he said, but I know what he meant: Mom, my big grown-up tooth is coming in, and it looks different, and I’m scared. I’m learning to read and I’m afraid you won’t lay in bed with me at night and read books. I’m getting too big for you to carry me like a little tiny zero baby, and that might mean you don’t love me as much.
“I want you to put my tooth back in,” he said. I’m a problem solver. I want to fix this. And it’s killing me that I can’t.