Sunday, January 29, 2012

What? What Did You Say?

About a month ago, Sophia visited our pediatrician for a routine, yearly check up. Now that she’s four, the doctor administered a hearing test for the first time since her birth.

Sophie eagerly followed the nurse into the small room at the end of the corridor. She hopped into the chair, allowed the nurse to set a pair of large headphones over her ears. Sophie listened eagerly as the nurse instructed her to point to a picture when she heard the word.

She loved the game of it. Her face was screwed up with concentration. On the first couple of trials, I watched as she happily pointed to each picture.

Then she waited. She glanced up at the nurse to see why the game had stopped.

It hadn’t.

My heart sank as I watched Sophie fail her hearing test. The nurse did four sets of multiple trials, each time the decibel level dipped below a certain threshold, Sophie showed no indication of hearing.

An expert in catastrophizing, I quickly flashed to a deaf future. A world without music, without voice. Of having to learn sign language. Of accommodations and devices.

And it all made sense to me. On some preconscious level, I knew she hadn’t been hearing well. Asking me to turn up Beauty and the Beast in the Car because she couldn’t make out what Chip was saying (though I could hear him, plain as day). Or the fact that she says “What? What did you say?” a lot.

I thought she was just tuning me out.

When we met with the doctor, I tried to keep my distress at bay, while I asked her about the test. She was unconcerned. “Oh, lots of kids fail the test. It’s hard to keep kids focused on the task at this age.”

Not Sophie. She was into it.

I pressed. I told her about the recent discovery of fluid in her ears at her last appointment. Of her cough that lasted two months. The doctor obliged me with a tympanogram, which passes a sound wave through the ear to see if the ear drum would vibrate.

When it didn’t, my wonderful doctor drew a quick diagram for me, explaining how fluid in her hears was preventing this vibration, that the hearing loss was likely due to the fluid and not to worry. It would resolve. Still, she sent us for a more detailed audiogram, that would help us determine the degree of loss (if it hadn’t resolved by that point), and to discern whether it was an inner (equipment) or outer (conductive hearing loss because of the presence of fluid) problem, and give us a baseline for comparison in a couple of months.

We saw the audiologist at CHOP a few weeks later. She was friendly, and engaging. Sophie took an instant liking to her. After taking a history (Did she have a hearing test at birth? Pass it? Yes. Yes. Any history of hearing loss in the family? Yes. Kevin’s side. How old were they when they lost their hearing? Older. 40’s 50’s 60’s . Had we noticed a difference in her hearing? Yes, I did. For how long? Within the past year. It’s so hard to pinpoint these things, in hindsight.

She began to test Sophie, “I’m going to put these headphones on you. When you hear a sound, I want you to put a peg in the pegboard. Okay?”

“Okay!” replied Sophie, enthusiastically. She carefully watched the audiologist’s face. I watched Sophie’s. It was clear she heard the first few tones, giving a slight nod or announcing, “I heard it!” as she jammed a peg into the board. Then, her face dropped. She didn’t look quite as sure. The audiologist looked at her expectantly, and Sophie put the peg in the board.

“Good!” said the audiologist, unwittingly rewarding Sophie for attending to her prompt. On the next several trials, the same thing happened. Sophie watched the audiologist, the audiologist unconsciously signaled her with eye-contact when she played the tone, and Sophie, wanting to do it right, stuck a peg in the board.

I said, as gently as I could, “I think she’s looking at you for cues. Could you not make eye contact with her?”

Wordlessly, she immediately broke eye contact. And that’s when Sophie began not hearing, again.

Later the audiologist explained that her hearing loss is slight and conductive. She’s guessing at what we’re saying when we’re whispering and its probably a little worse when she has an active cold. When I was a child I had three myringotomies—tubes placed in my ears. Kevin had them once. Looks like her genes were stacked against her.

I am relieved. I wish that I could stay cognizant of how magnificent it is that we have our senses to perceive the wonders of the world. It is a shame that it takes a small scare to awaken me to how precious our hearing is. Today, I am listening with gratitude to: my daughter’s voice singing in the back of the car, the whisper of “I love you” in my ear, and even the pesky birds that greet the day with such joy in the tree beside my bedroom window.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

No Shame

Sophia has no shame.

For now.

Carrying her in my arms, running to make a doctor’s appointment, Sophia passed gas. Long and loud.

“Sophia! You just farted on me!” I exclaimed.

“No, mommy. That was just my butt saying hello to your arm.” Nice. Hello to you too.

She dances around naked save for a pair of sunglasses and several strands of beads slung about her neck and tells me she’s a puma.

And just today, in front of the neighbors she stripped off a Simba costume to reveal nothing but princess panties underneath. “I’m in my underwear! Nothing but my underwear under here!” she sang.

This is about to change. I can feel it.

Kevin noted that the sign outside the Jewish Community Center locker rooms, read: No children of the opposite sex allowed over the age of three. “They got that exactly right.” Kevin said, because just yesterday at breakfast, when Kevin was fully dressed standing and eating his Raisin Bran, Sophie sang, “I see your penis. I see your penis.” I can only imagine what she’d say if she saw a whole bunch of them, exposed, on elderly Jewish men.

But, just the other day, when we were visiting “the boyfriends” she decided she wanted to change from her everyday clothes into a princess gown. Rather than stripping on the spot, as she has always been known to do, she gathered up her royal robes and disappeared into the bathroom. Reid followed, but she shut the door in his face, telling him, “I need my privacy.”


I consulted with my friend Elisa, who has two children a little farther down the road of life. They slept over last night.

“When did your kids first start to experience a sense of shame?” I asked her as her eight-year-old son, Marc, disappeared upstairs to change into his pajamas, unobserved.

She looked thoughtfully at the ceiling, trying to recall. “I think it was about six that he first started telling me he needed his privacy.” I exhaled. That was still two years away.

“And Julian?” He’s six now.

“Oh gosh, he still has yet to become self-conscious. I don’t know if he’ll ever hit that point.”

Just then, Sophie whipped off her Rapunzel dress and slipped on her heart pajamas as Julian stood by hopping from foot-to-foot, taking no notice of her semi-nude state, wanting only for her to hurry up so they could snuggle together and read a bedtime story.

I know it can’t last forever. But I hope, when modesty comes, that it’s not because she’s embarrassed of how her body looks or what it does, but simply because she has learned a social norm. I hope that she’ll play by the rules, carefully relegating the private to the private, but that deep down, she will always be…a puma.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Lessons from an Extrovert

Are you an introvert or extrovert? Author Susan Cain explores how introverts can be powerful in a world where being an extrovert is highly valued. Join From Left to Write on January 19 as we share our stories inspired by Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain. We'll also be chatting live with Susan Cain at 9PM Eastern on January 26. As a member of From Left to Write, I received a copy of the book. All opinions are my own.

I am an introvert raising an extrovert.

As soon as Sophia could make eye contact with people, she did. With anyone and everyone--neighbors I had never spoken to, people on the street I hurried by--her primary impulse, it seemed, was to reach out to others.

This impulse jarred me. I had spent the previous 38 years trying to be, if not invisible, unobtrusive. I’m not sure if it’s shyness, or a preference to keep to myself that was miscast as shyness, but I have to force myself to talk to people outside my small sphere. I become painfully self-conscious, hearing myself speak as I talk, wondering how much eye contact I should be making, hoping I am passing for sociable and engaging.

My introversion is hard for many to reconcile, considering that I used to stand up and speak before hundreds of people. Or that I’m a psychologist, helping others to build their social skills. If anything, because I have had to push past my introversion, had to learn skill by skill what is unconscious and easy for some, I have a great deal of empathy for others like me. I know what they need to know.

I would have known how to raise an introvert. I could have taught her how to cope.

Sophia doesn’t need to be taught how to cope. She instinctively knew how to relate to others from day one. We’d be on the elevator in our high rise, headed out for some fresh air, Sophia snugly tucked into my Ergo, facing my chest. As the elevator doors slid open, she would twist her neck uncomfortably to orient towards and beam at each person who stepped on. They rewarded her with exuberant attention.

“She’s so alert!”

“She’s so friendly!”

“Look at those big, blue eyes!”

Suddenly, I was forced to communicate.

“Yes, she’s always observing, taking it all in.”

“She loves people!”

“Thank you so much!”

Frankly, there was something lovely about this experience. After years of puzzling over how to connect with others, I had found the thing that transcended every kind of barrier--race, age, sex, class, introversion: Babies. Sophie, completely unaware of the things that divide us, made connections effortlessly.

She drew me out of my shell. She was my social lubricant. She helped me bridge the gap that lay between myself and others.

I absolutely hated the prospect of Mother and Me activities, sitting around with a bunch of people I did not know, our lowest common denominator the fact that we could give birth to live young. But I went for Sophia’s sake, because the only thing she loved more than gurgling at complete strangers was being amongst her kind. When she saw another baby, she’d go nuts with joy, even, on occasion, mounting the child because she just couldn’t get close enough. And, in these situations, I didn’t have to speak, I could just smile and let Sophie do the work.

And then, I did start having some nice conversations with people.

Out of these conversations, I made some nice friends.

Looks like the extrovert might be raising me.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

My New Golden Rule

Since infancy, Sophie has hated the bath. People have told me it will get better as she gets older. It hasn’t. At four, she still has a strong aversion to the indignity of being washed; experiences hair washing as physical pain; pulls her limbs from me as I try to soap them up. I’ve found ways to help her cope: I don’t do it every day. I give her fair warning. She can select toys she wants to have in the tub, and I set the timer to allow her some play time. When I can no longer delay the actual washing, I tell her stories or sing to her as I scrub. Most of the time this makes it tolerable for both of us. Some of the time, there is no amount of preparation, no degree of sugar-coating it that will make it palatable.

This was one of those times.

“Sophia, it’s time for a bath.” She was downstairs playing Beauty and Friendly Beast with Kevin, while I was filling the tub.

“I’m not coming!” I hear Kevin say gently, “Come on, Sophie,” and her feet on the steps. Once upstairs, she stomps into her bedroom and slams the door.

“Get in here. Now.” She appears in the doorway, her hands on her hips in a defiant posture.”

“I don’t need a bath.”

I am not arguing this point. It is most definitely time. “Sophia, take off the princess dress.”

“No. I won’t.”

“If you don’t take it off yourself, I’m going to take it off of you.”

“No! Don’t touch my dress!” She runs into her room. I make chase. Unfortunately, I’m under a time constraint. I have to get this done before she goes down for a nap and I have to leave the house.

“I’m going to count to three!” I warn.

“I said I’m not taking off the dress!”





“THREE!” I begin to rip the princess dress off her body. I’m all jacked up on adrenaline now. She’s pulling it down as I’m trying to wrestle it over her head, so I grab her pearls instead.


“Then take them off yourself.” I say, trying, trying, trying to stay in control.

“Noooooo!” I pull the elastic band of beads over her head. She grabs for them and I seize the opportunity to remove the dress.

At last. Down to the underwear. She grasps the elastic waistband and pulls it up to her chest, giving her the most painful wedgie I’ve ever seen. “Don’t touch my underwear! IT’S PART OF MY BODY!” The way she is pulling them, they have become part of her body.

I slide her feet out from under her, take her down on the bath mat, making sure her head doesn’t hit the floor, and work the panties off her. Then, I pick up her naked body and deposit her in the tub. Her limbs churn the water, instantly soaking me and the floor.

“Sophia. I’m warning you. Stop it RIGHT NOW. If you want to keep your toys in the tub, you need to stop.”

She continues to thrash, brandishes a bowl and threatens, “I’m going to dump water on you!”

“Give me that,” I say, taking it from her. She raises a large plastic water wheel over her head, about to chuck it at me. I take that too. “Now you’ve lost your toys. What a shame.” I tell her.

She goes into a blind rage. A tidal wave rises up and sloshes out of the tub. I’m soaked again. I glance at the clock. I’m supposed to be out of here in 15 minutes.

This is when I lose it. I pick up the pitcher that I use to rinse her hair. “Knock it off NOW, or I’m going to dump water on you.” I am hopeful that, like cats who are fighting, one douse will end it all.

She continues to churn the water with her legs. I dump.

She’s in shock. “Mommy! You got water in my eyes! You’re hurting me.” Then, she kicks again, only harder. I do it again. She screams, still kicking, “Let me calm down! Let me calm calm down!”

I really hope, one day, she isn’t going to be talking about this in therapy.

I pull the shower curtain closed so that she can continue to flail without soaking me, and, perhaps we can both calm down. I take a deep breath.

I am really, really tempted to spank her naughty bottom. I see how parents get to this point. Low on sleep, on patience, on time it’s easy to be gripped by rage. To let it get the best of you. To incite you to do things in a calmer, saner moment, you never would.

This is not how I want things to be, between us. This is not what I want to teach her. To model.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I shouldn’t have done that. I lost my temper. That was wrong.” I wait a moment and then I say it again, “I’m sorry, Sophia.” I am sitting here, hoping she will take a little personal responsibility for her role in the fight.

I expect a lot from her, I know. She is only four.

“I’m not ready yet.” The curtain says back.

“Fair enough.” I reply. “Just let me know when you are.”

“Maybe in a few minutes.” I call the person I’m meeting to let her know, I’ll be late. Working this through is the most important thing I could possibly doing right now. Conflict is inevitable. Repair is essential.

The curtain says, “Okay. I’m ready now.”

I draw it back. Sophie is sitting there, eyes red, tears clinging to her face, “You hurt me,” she accuses.

“I am sorry I dumped water on you Sophia. I shouldn’t have done that. It was not nice. But, don’t forget, you had a part in this, too.” I raise my eyebrows.

“I’m sorry too, Mommy. It’s just that I wasn’t ready. I wanted to play more with Daddy.” I know. I know.

“Sophia, you’re going to be with Daddy the rest of the afternoon. You’ll have plenty of time to play with him.” She seems cheered by this.

“Okay. You can wash me now. But can you tell me a story?”

I tell her the story of what just happened between us, using this moment “There once was a little girl who never wanted to talk a bath....”

The story has a moral: Do unto you would have your mother do unto you.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

It's in the Genes

Kevin and I are always trying to lay genetic claims to Sophia’s traits. Whenever Sophia has an ornery moment, Kevin says with pride, “That’s all me.”

Yes, it is. I won’t fight him on that one.

When she has an imaginative impulse? That’s all me.

After all, I composed songs to which my sister and I performed disco dances before a captive audience (my parents), and I spent my teenage hours drawing flow charts of how my best friend Christine and I could successfully escape to New York.

So, it thrilled me when my mother invited me into Sophia’s classroom the other morning.

This is what I saw:

All 17 of her peers were sitting quietly in a circle with their hands over their eyes. Sophia was in the center dictating rules, her hands flailing. “Okay. So this is the game. It’s called “Missing Person.” Keep your hands over your eyes. No peeking. Ms. Ruth [the classroom aide who was the classroom aide when I was in my mother’s school] is going to describe someone. Then I am going to go up to you [the person being described] and tap you on the shoulder. If I tap you, then it’s your turn to be the leader and I sit in your seat. Remember. I said no peeking. Everybody understand?” Some kids nodded. No one peeked. Miss Ruth described a student, Sophie tapped her on the shoulder and she happily switched places with Sophie. When Sophie spied me, she jumped up to tell me the rules.

At first, I didn’t quite understand the function of having to keep your hands over your eyes. But as I watched the game play out, I realized that it built up a certain level of suspense, having your eyes closed, wondering if you would be the person described, and then, if you would be chosen, perhaps mistakenly. It also created some interesting cognitive demands, requiring that the children recall what they were wearing, thinking about how they might appear to others, and forming a mental representation of themselves in their minds.

The irony, is that I had been next door, inventing my own interactive games for a very dry chapter in a psychology textbook.

Could there be a gene for this? An innovator and designer gene? A teacher and facilitator gene? (A bossy, wanting to be in control gene?)

Or is she just acting like me? Studying my model, following my lead.

Doesn’t matter. I’m just happy to see the reflection of myself in my child, my legacy so plainly displayed. A legacy which is not mine alone, but handed down from my mother. And, though legend has it that my principal grandfather got one of his high school students pregnant, he too was an educator. Maybe he was a good one. Immorality does not necessarily preclude teaching ability.

Kevin once told me pre-kid that he wanted to have a child to carry on his genetic material, to create a connection to past and future generations. At the time, it didn’t make sense to me, or at least it didn’t appeal to me. I had a hard time owning what I perceived to be the selfishness of that desire.

I thought I wanted to have a child for the experience, for the opportunity for more love in my life, for the challenge of raising a good human being to add to the planet. But, now that she’s here, I see that is only partially true. I, too, want to live on through my daughter. I want her to be me distilled down to my best parts. Not that I want to live through, more that I want to her to pick up the baton whenever I lose steam, and to run with it into a bright, bright future.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

I'm in Time Out

I’ve been spending a lot of time in time out lately, and, for the record, I’d like to proclaim my innocence.

I have done nothing wrong.

Unlike SOME PEOPLE, I do not bite. I do not hit. I do not refuse to give up empty fruit squeeze containers to my mother, who is desperately pleading with me to do so as a children’s museum docent makes her way over to us to point out the sign over our heads:

Absolutely no food allowed outside of the cafeteria.

Most of the time I am very well behaved. Oh, every now and then I lose it when CERTAIN PEOPLE are not moving fast enough in the morning. Or are, in fact, dawdling ON PURPOSE when I am trying to get out of the house to make it to work on time.

And sometimes I become irate when A PRESCHOOLER WHO SHALL REMAIN NAMELESS yells a command, demand or reprimand at me when I am driving. Or worse, chucks something into the front seat.

“That’s dangerous. We could get into an accident.”

“No. YOU’RE DANGEROUS,” comes the voice of opposition, “YOU could get us into an accident.”

“Well I might if you don’t SETTLE DOWN.”

“No. YOU need to settle down.”

“Sophia, I’m warning you.”

“I’m warning you! Don’t talk to me. Don’t LOOK at me.”

I look at her in the mirror, raising my eyebrows in a way that I hope communicates: back down now.

“I said DON’T LOOK AT ME! Don’t look at me! I’m going to put you in TIME OUT.”

Funny. I was just thinking the same about you. Actually, that’s not true. I rarely put my daughter in time out. It’s true that sometimes I suggest she go upstairs to CALM DOWN. But she only get’s thrown into the pit of despair when she’s aggressive.

Like the other day at the children’s museum. As I tried to wrestle the fruit squeeze container, which had been drained of every last atom of organic bananas and peaches, she sank her sharp little incisors into my right pointer finger.

“YOW!” I cried out. Several parents and their small children turned around to see what all the fuss was about.

“YOU DO NOT BITE!” I snarled and marched her over to the closest corner. What a mistake. It was laden with electrical wires, steps leading to a door armed with an alarm, and, I think, a pile of rusty nails.

“SIT ON THIS STEP AND DO NOT MOVE UNTIL I SAY SO.” Bent her head down and charged me. I lifted her back onto the step and try to body block her escape.

“Get out of my way, Mommy! I’m not in time out! You are!” We had a growing audience and she was clearly enjoying performing for the crowd.

“That’s it,” I say, my voice a low growl. “We’re leaving.” She kicked off her shoes. I picked her and the shoes up and carried her towards the front door.

At the coat rack, I handed Sophia her pink buffalo coat (“I won’t wear it! It makes me look like a buffalo!”) “I’m not putting on my coat,” she sang provocatively.

“Stand in the corner,” I hissed. I whipped out my phone to call my friend, Nan, who we had met her for a playdate, for backup. She was the reining queen of therapeutic holds at the school where we both used to work. It took a few seconds for her to arrive. I felt relief that I didn’t need to speak. Didn’t need to be embarrassed. She asked one question, “What do you want me to do: the hold or the jacket?”

“The jacket.” She jumped in, swiftly acting.

“Don’t zip it! Don’t zip it!” Sophia protested, as Nan expertly maneuvered her into the buffalo coat.

Then, she zipped it. I love this woman. “You want me to help you get her in the car?” she asked, her toddler waiting patiently at her side.

“No, thanks. You guys have fun. I can take it from here.” I carried Sophia out to the car, fettered her to the carseat, and closed the car door on her screams. “I'm not in time out! You’re in time out Mommy!”

Yes. I was taking a little time out. FROM HER.


Many hours later, after the incident was all but forgotten, Sophia and I were chatting. I explained the concept of New Year’s resolutions to her. “Many people see the New Year as an opportunity to make a fresh start,” I say. “A chance to improve something about themselves. What do you think? What’s your New Year’s Resolution, Soph?”

Sophie looked thoughtful, tilted her head in an endearing way, and replied, “to be nicer to you Mommy.”

So she was sorry.

“What’s yours?” she asked?

I met her halfway, “to be nicer to you too.”

We smiled at each other for a moment, in mutual understanding. Oh, I knew it would soon be broken, but in that moment, her recognition of wrong-doing and her good intentions were all that I needed to hear.

Happy New Year!