Perhaps if they offered her candy. . .

Posted by jdg | Tuesday, March 20, 2007

"Slow to warm," said the pediatrician as Juniper kept her head buried in Wood's chest for the fifth consecutive minute since the good doctor entered the examination room. I have never heard of a physician performing an examination without actually seeing the face of her patient, but apparently it's possible. Juniper could have had a lazy eye and a cleft palate that would have gone undiagnosed. We described to the pediatrician the hundreds of times we've sat in shrug-filled horror as our child screamed "No! No lady look at me! No lady look!" whenever a stranger wanted to pay her a little attention. I mentioned how a kid at the community recreation center punched her solidly in the gut, and ever since that day whenever we encounter another kid, she asks with trepidation, "that kid won't hurt me, will he?" I might have also mentioned that she even seems a little afraid of squirrels.

Although admittedly heartwarming at times, Juniper's desperate cry of, "Dada keep me nice and safe!" has less emotional resonance when, say, the set of grandparents she sees the least have just driven across three states to see her and I have been looking forward to a morning of uninterrupted computer time while they play with her. She wouldn't let me leave the room. She seems to have this irrational fear that we are going to leave her with every unfamiliar person she encounters. I say irrational, because we have hardly ever left her with anyone.

"Slow to warm" seems euphemistic to me. Juniper is not a rump roast in a crockpot. At her very best, she is shy. Typically, when confronted with someone other than me, Wood or Logan Summers she seems anxious. At her worst, she makes Boo Radley look like Bill Clinton. It is not surprising, given that by all reports Wood and I were both shy kids. And we are both still shy in unfamiliar social situations. But I have also considered the possibility that Juniper is the way she is because we've really never left her with strangers. During her seven months of daycare, she would only tolerate the one wonderful man who took care of her. On days he was sick she would just cry all day, and one of us would have to come get her. When she was older and we once left her with the drop-in daycare provided as a benefit of my old job, we returned to find her slumped in the corner screaming while the surly Asian teen who was supposed to be taking care of her scuttled over to pretend she had been giving her attention. The tears that had dried on the collar of her shirt and the exhaustion when she finally came to rest on my shoulder proved that had not been the case. In San Francisco, we had no family to rely on, no friends willing to sacrifice a night out on the town. Wood and I have never left her with a babysitter while she was awake. We can count on our fingers the number of times we've been out together after dark these past two years. We have returned from many of those dates hours early because she woke up and refused to return to sleep, filling the sitter with constant queries about our present location. We have just grown accustomed to drinking at home.

In a lot of ways this reminds me of our sleep predicament. One could argue we are coddling her, that she has trained us to submit to her demands and that we should just be tough, let her "cry it out" with some poor stranger without any comfort from us, and then she'd see everything is okay in some Weissbluthian epiphany. To those who'd say so, I say you don't know this child. It isn't just that she is strong-willed; it isn't just that as parents we have a weakness for hearing her screaming as though she were a child wandering without her parents through the streets of Troy during its final burning hours. I think this is just a part of who she is, and that someday she will grow out of it naturally. At least, I hope she does. I won't be able to deal with this shit when she's thirty.

One of my earliest memories is being taken to a babysitter's house at about Juniper's age, where I was left in a room to "take a nap" all afternoon. I can still remember how much I hated it there. One day when we got to the babysitter's house and my mom got out of the car I locked all the doors. The keys were still in the ignition. To this day, my mom doesn't think I locked the doors on purpose---she thinks I was too young. But I knew what I was doing. I remember being in that car when the police officer came and jimmied the door open. I remember watching them from inside, not wanting to get out.

I gave Juniper these genes. Now I figure it's the least I can do to suffer for that gift.