Here in this neighborhood of bloggers I’m surrounded by teachers and task masters of the first order when it comes to grammar, spelling, syntax, what have you. My very best friends are picky,picky,picky. I have this secret (and I guess, fairly narcissistic) fear that Jane and Bonnie, for example, send each other little tee-hee, tsk,tsk e-mails about the endless parentheses marks and ellipsis over here. That’s just a prelude to saying it’s
all their fault I haven’t written anything of substance lately 4 AM and I don’t really give a damn that TypePad’s spell check still, after almost two years, wants to change ‘blogs’ to ‘blokes’. After all, should I be held to a higher standard than Typepad? I know I punctuate ridiculously. Parenthetically, this post is all Wende’s fault.
Years ago, when I was an outstanding young star in my field (it’s true. I was. I’ve been modest about my professional achievements here and they mostly predated Google and my crowning achievements, those two lovable plagues I call my children. More on them in Chapter II…) I learned to spell ‘separation’ correctly from my mentor, Selma Fraiberg. Yah, yah, you are too young but The Magic Years stood right up there next to Baby and Child Care as the definitive readable work on the early years; Spock did the body and Fraiberg did the mind and spirit. Selma said to me, "There’s always "a rat" in separation" and, even at that early age, that resonated in me. I was 23 years old and she was proofing a paper I wrote that would eventually become a chapter in one of her books. It was on separation anxiety in blind infants and I would ultimately make $13.10 quarterly for 2 years in royalties on my contribution. (As a completely pointless aside, Rich is likely to get a signing bonus for a book offer that will equal a year of my highest salary. I haven’t figured out how I feel about that yet. Suffice it to say that we have been rewarded differently for our contributions to humankind.)
Prior to writing that paper, I had studied the literature and attended conferences with many of the experts on separation anxiety. Bowlby was first and then Melanie Klein and Anna Freud, on to Barry Brazelton, Marshall Klaus and John Kennell (a kind and brilliant man who had the worst comb over ever. I saw him swimming laps at a hotel pool where we were presenting at a national conference and that hair sort of went swimming along side him). The theory was that there were three types of attachments in infants and young children and two of them were doomed to emotional failure (which they would most likely drag forward with them, like so much miserable flotsam and jetsam, into later life).
You had the securely attached model child: this was Baby # 1, who safely made the transition to "out of sight, not out of mind and they’re so swell I want them back, NOW, and if I cry, they will come in just the right amount of time to give me both reassurance and a little nudge towards secure independence and it will be CONSISTENT, so that I can rely on it and feel safe and confident and loved in my world. Forever and ever. Amen" (Was Melanie Klein ever this coherent at 4 AM?)
Baby #2 was not attached much at all, because his mommy and daddy had to chuck him in a baby nursery in the English countryside while they stayed in London and contributed to the war effort. A decade or two later, substitute foster care or any variation of institutional care. In the 70s there would be huge arguments, played out in the Sunday NY Times, between the Gloria Steinems and the Selma Fraibergs, as to whether this could be extended to include children chucked into full-time daycare at three months of age so mommy would be free to self actualize in the work force. Now that many mothers must resort to daycare for their babies, the discussion, with variations, rages on and we are looking at Gens X, Y and Super Y to see the outcomes, in all their permutations. Does 20 plus hours of interactive media each and every day count as institutional care? Anyway, Baby # 2 failed to grow and thrive, remained listless and lagging behind in all aspects of development as rotating shifts of caregivers bathed and fed and plunked her back in her crib. Very sad. Curiously, we discovered, not always irrevocably so. As rotating caregivers were replaced by primary caregivers, babies sometimes bounced back, caught up and we found that they, too, could maybe become successful babies. (The 70s also brought debate and then recognition that this ‘primary caregiver’ could be daddy, too, or maybe a special nanny or grandparent. Could an adopting primary caregiver be as good as a birth parent caregiver? That would be the ridiculous debate of the 80s, when I hit my professional stride and gave expert testimony at a sensational trial that ultimately ended before the Supreme Court of the United States. The memorable sound bite from that media circus was "Blood calls to blood." Give me an f-ing break. Meanwhile, babies demonstrated that they knew the obvious answer to the definition of "parent" even if the courts didn’t.)
Enter Baby #3. Wednesday’s child. This is the child who is neither securely attached or lethargically un-attached. This is the child who, God help her, is "anxiously attached". In the realm of attachment disorders this is the big kahuna. Every psychoanalyst’s dream (a dying breed). This child doesn’t know who’s coming or going when or where. This is the poor
rat child who intermittently gets a reinforcement to his calls for help or reassurance and the response is tied less to his needs than the emotional needs or constraints of his caregivers. These are the children who have Mommy Dearest tending them. Life is one big serendipitous crap shoot. Maybe she’ll come or maybe she’ll shoot crap crack. Maybe he’ll give me a bottle or maybe he’ll hit the bottle himself. ( I’m on a roll here, but darn, if I’m not getting sleepy again.)
Back in my early years as a student under the creme de la creme of teachers and then, as a young but thoughtful psychotherapist, I spent a lot of time considering the whole notion of attachment and separation in human relationships. At first, like most young psychologists, I thought about it as a way of understanding myself (starting in Psych 101, we were all our first and, if we’re lucky, best patients. Then we might possibly go on to consider and help somebody else.). Eventually, I came to appreciate that many of us, through the circumstances of life, struggle with terrible inconsistencies in our relationships. It’s endemic, except to a fortunate few. Obviously, not all to crippling extremes, but it’s not the exceptional person who finds themselves miserably dysfunctional at some point along the way. And then, as wonderfully resilient as the human spirit can be, fortunate folk find a way to mend and heal and move forward.
Okay, now I’m in a space where I can fall back asleep. This first chapter has been a short course on theory. Chapter II could be an illustration from, say, some person’s own life experience with the ups and downs of separation anxiety. I could make a commitment to posting that here within the next couple of days but, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m so inconsistent it’s not amusing. But I probably will, depending on how I feel. I already wrote it, in my head.
Good book recommendation: A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi. One woman’s brave foray into an unlikely relationship. Includes recipes.
McCloud spent his earliest months securely attached to an elderly woman who loved him very much. Then they both got placed into institutional care facilities, not the same one. Then Rich adopted him, loved him very much, but traveled and left him alone frequently. McCloud responded anxiously by peeing around a bit and becoming slightly, ah, large. Now that he has two caregivers and one is always available to fill his bowl, he lives life as a cat free of separation or attachment disorders. He even feels free to board Friday’s Ark.