On Adult Attachment to Children

There is nothing like the wordless sadness of a beautiful face dear to you. I’m referring to the small, huggable, wide-eyed ones when overtaken by uncertain illness.

“Mine!” is one of his favorite words, claiming property his bigger brother shows an interest in. The malady, however, offered nothing he wanted to keep.

The upbeat mood of the smiling, sweet-as-chocolate cherub melts in a few minutes. Energy departs, spirit evaporates, words transmute into inexpressable discomfort. The flush of heat rises, but the body descends.

The sick two-year-old loses his chatter.

My youngest grandson does not reach for a hand — doesn’t lead you to a toy, or a place, or try to have you for himself instead of sharing you with his six-year-old brother.

It must be tough to be a little fellow, hard to make your imperfect utterances understood.

Now he wants the hugs only a mom and dad can supply — seeks their comfort and embrace, the safety he can’t describe.

You watch this happen. COVID fertilizes your fear, growing like Jack’s speedy beanstalk. The concern is new, though other epochs had their own dangers — smallpox, polio, plague …

The moppet slumps into slumber. You depart, but the precious person grips your heart, now shadowed by a cloud.

The day passes. Your wife’s sleep is fitful.

The golden boy holds the sorrowful power to instill worry.

Daughter #2, his mother, sends a message early the next day.

A long nap, his parents’ knowing, double-duty attention, food, and more sleep sweep the danger away. The tentative all-clear sounds.

The news makes the sun shine brighter today. The superpowers of small children extend to the stars.

Sir Francis Bacon wrote, “He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief.”

What the writer didn’t say might have also been spoken about love. We are held fast by our loves, the closest friends, our offspring, and our grandkids, too.

Those attachments can do far worse to us than the bit of concern we had that day. Much, much worse. Many near misses and joys await. Best not to borrow trouble.

But this two-year-old deserves credit. His bounce-back brought the sky’s warmest blue. Only the dearest hearts inside you do this. He sprinkles fairy dust and doesn’t even know it.

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The first photo dates from 1934 and was published in Modern Screen magazine in 1950. The two-year-old girl is Elizabeth Taylor, with her mother Sara Sothern and brother Howard.

The second image was taken by Rita Martin and shows an unnamed child in 1912. Both of the photographs were sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Coping with “Skin Hunger” in the Coronavirus Age: Entry from an Unwritten Journal

I’ve never written in a journal, despite offering the idea to many patients. Today I write because writing permits expression in the absence of nearness. At this moment, we mustn’t be close to others no matter what we want.

Yet we are the same creatures evolved to be social, to touch and more than touch: to shake hands, hug, embrace, caress, kiss, fondle, and lose ourselves in love and friendship.

We suffer from a pandemic side-effect called Skin Hunger by some, a too familiar, but unspoken condition among us, soon to be known by almost everyone. We have become experimental subjects in an unplanned scientific inquiry.

Still, today offered some small compensation. Here is a morning snapshot without mourning.

I wanted fresh orange juice. I’m lucky in many ways, including a meer 10-minute drive to a store that almost gives it away and a car to get there.

To minimize risk, I arrived early. Really early for those of you who aren’t seniors: at the high-risk age of our world’s coronavirus stage.

I entered at nine-minutes before dawn, a trip on night’s black edge: 6:20 AM.

Few people beat me in. The magic of automatic doors saved me from contact. Then a young woman employee walked by.

“Excuse me. Where are hamburger buns?

If we have them, they’re in aisle four.

I guess “if we have them” has turned into a reflexive response. Shortages because of the terror. I went to get the juice, whose location I knew, then to aisle four. Tons of buns.

One of the automated checkouts was in use, three empty. I completed the errand while maintaining social distance. Mission accomplished! We take our triumphs where we can find them within the constraints of our present moment.

Breakfast. I had a drink of water, then prepared my typical fiber-filled repast: shredded wheat manufactured without sugar, salt, and taste. With bananas today, though I often add blueberries if the price is reasonable.

Then coffee to feel alive. Most seniors require gallons, plus medications. I don’t take many of the latter, but the standard is relative. Friends report back problems and hernias from lifting all the pharmaceuticals they use!

Now for the major event of the day. Ta-da! Walking outside. Almost three miles.

People are friendlier but maintain distance. Almost everyone now waves or says hello, even from across the street.

An outlier on a bike, a woman, widened the footage between us from 15 to 25 feet.

Some folks walked dogs. Physical contact with a loving mammal. Think about it.

I passed modest homes and a few places an old friend compared to the Palace of Versailles. He was exaggerating, of course.

I got to thinking about how COVID-19 might alter our values. We take much for granted: life, health, work, restaurants, etc.

Perhaps, for a while, the condition of our being will be differently admired, differently evaluated, differently appreciated.

The status of simple things is getting a boost, decency among them.

The birds were out and a concert in progress. A legendary symphony conductor, Carlo Maria Giulini, told me he thought this the most beautiful music of all. No disagreement from me. Even the woodpecker with his built-in jackhammer joined the sing-along.

Some folks I know are stunned at the avalanche of bad news. The ones in feathered flight don’t care. Birds chirp, chatter, and sing in their first show of the day. We hear mostly males at that time, hoping to win a female heart and trying to mark their territory.

The scale of their satisfaction is smaller than ours.

Perhaps they offer something worth learning.