Monday, August 27, 2012

On giving the Universe the finger


A split second after Addison screamed I was out of my chair and moving. By the time I realized I was moving, I was already through the doorway of my office (also my bedroom) and dodging stuffed animals and cloth diapers and sippy cups in the hallway on the way to Addison's room. My body responded to some subconscious cue before I realized what I was doing. It was weird.

See, my daughter is a toddler. Toddlers whine a lot. They cry a lot. Some of them scream a lot, and ours is definitely a screamer. Part of our parenting model is not to give in to every cry, whine, or scream, while at the same time letting Addison know that she's not abandoned. If that sounds a bit like a Catch-22, it frequently is. It means that, especially during "naptime," we've had to get used to lots of whining, crying, and even screaming from a little girl who wants to do what she wants to do, and not what we want her to do. 

What's interesting, though, is that despite working diligently to try to tune out her screaming (at least until we hit the agreed-upon time-limit for going in to check on her), there's still that certain scream that bursts me out of my chair and gets me moving in her direction before my conscious brain becomes part of the conversation. 

One might suggest that this kind of unthinking behavior is simply an example of the mysterious and powerful quality of the love a parent feels for their child . . . but I don't think it's that easy. I don't think of love as being something that my body responds to before my mind has a chance to make any decisions. No, love would be that moment when I deliberately make a decision for the good of someone close to me. I guess, in a way, I'm saying that love takes time. Lots of it. This was some sort of instinct, perhaps inherent or perhaps trained a la Pavlov. I'm not sure.

While I think it's good that I react fast to that sort of scream, I'm also ruminating about why I reacted the way I did. So I turn to Radiolab. Do you guys listen to Radiolab? Because if you don't, you should.

The first episode of Radiolab is titled "Who Am I?" and if I recall correctly, one of the questions it asks is whether a person is defined by their mind, and if so, it asks who is actually performing an action that begins to occur before it is even physically possible for the message to have been sent from the brain? 

I'm not sure I have a lot more to say about this yet, I just wanted to toss out what I've been thinking about -- 'cause I've got some smarties for readers. Maybe some of y'all have some ideas about it. Also, I'm reminded that I need to go back and work my way through some of these Radiolab episodes. They're kind of amazing.

In case you were wondering, Addison got her finger stuck in a drawer. The scream continued until I got in her room, where she had been doing her "quiet time" (not so quiet anymore). She still had her finger stuck. So I pulled it out, and kissed it, and rocked her a little bit. She wanted to go down and show it to Mama. Which is when I took this picture:


Little punk.

It was her middle finger that was stuck in the drawer. I asked her to bend her fingers, and this was the one that wouldn't follow the rest of them. Also, I like to think of it as her unconscious reaction to her suffering, directed to the Universe. If it was instinct, can I blame her for flipping the bird?

Suffice it to say that Mama can make a lot of things better. It helps that Mama has a lot of expensive medical devices strewn about our house from the various accidents and traumas that she's had to deal with in her life. For the last week, Lindsay has had a killer neck issue that's mostly kept her in bed, and she's been wearing a certain device that Addison has learned helps "owies."


Much more effective than a band-aid, obviously.

14 comments:

  1. That's so cute! Gotta love the placebo effect

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    1. Her Buzz Lightyear pajamas also provide a placebo effect.

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  2. It's interesting how that certain cry can make you jump out of your skin before you know it. It's uncanny how I can tell from another room if my Gid is frustrated or actually in pain.

    On the subject of your brain and who's in charge there, I saw a magnificent TED talk about that just today. It's by Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain researcher who had a stroke and had the left half of her brain incapacitated for a short while. It's a fascinating look at the concepts of personality and self. And not near as dry as it sounds, either. Out was super cool.

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    1. Thanks for the tip, Bethany. I'm a fan of TED talks and of research about the brain specifically. Thanks for visiting!

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  3. When my kids were little we KNEW when things were serious because they initially had the "silent scream." YOu know, you hear the crash, you look over and the kid's mouth is open and contorted into a ghoulish twist. Their eyes are open in wide-eyed terror and NOTHING is coming out of their mouth - initially. And then, after they catch their breath they howl like a pack of wolves.

    And then it goes on, and on, and on.

    I bet a neck brace would have done the trick!

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    1. The quiet before the storm. I know exactly what you're talking about.

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    2. Round Rock Gal, you've described the silent scream perfectly. I felt chills while reading your comment -- especially when I got to the ghoulish twist.

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  4. Since I've been reading my current book, so steeped in evolutionary psychology, clearly the reason for your instinctive reaction is that you heard your lone offspring cry out against a predator (drawer) and your primal imperative was to save her, thereby perpetuating your own kin line. From that perspective, you could start telling people that what you really did was fight off a whole pack of wolves to save your daughter -- it's basically the same thing.

    Nice work, daddy.

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    1. P.S. I like these lines: "No, love would be that moment when I deliberately make a decision for the good of someone close to me. I guess, in a way, I'm saying that love takes time." I want you to write more about these someday.

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    2. I probably could also have said: "Love take time. A ridiculous, freaking long time."

      That "at first sight" stuff? Total bull crap.

      Also, now that I think back on this, I should have entered the room screaming my war cry, to scare away the wolves and make myself appear much more intimidating than the 128 pounder that I am. That would have made an impression on Addison.

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  5. Hi Neal,

    As I read your post, I became so engrossed with wondering whether the body could actually react before the mind subconsciously processed the information (I've decided that I don't think so) that I lost track of (1) what prompted me to read this story: the title, and (2) what caused your child to scream. I feel really bad about losing track of that second one.

    Your "love takes time" line when explaining why it couldn't be love that propelled you from your seat was a good try though.

    I'm glad that the injury was treatable by Dr. Mom, but I had to laugh at that neck contraption. My girls were partial to having ice applied to all of their boo boos, followed by the liberal application of band-aids. Consequently, my wife and I never had any in the house when we really needed one for ourselves.

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    1. The subconscious is a murky area, one that is flexible enough to contain innumerable theories, I think, like the depths of the ocean/universe in Melville's Moby-Dick. I'm still thinking through it all, and as I'm kind of wishy-washy about stuff in general, it's likely I'll bounce between one theory and another and back again.

      Bandaids. You can never have enough bandaids. And I agree; we always seem to have used them all up when we need them.

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