As I begin this piece, I have been directed to, “Go to work!” by Remi who is wailing and crying, with the door closed, in the bathroom. How did we get here? I flushed the toilet when she wanted to flush the toilet. She’s been crying for five minutes and is starting to choke-sob.
Give me a second.
OK, I knocked on the door and was admitted entry. We talked about her feelings and I held her all squished up into herself like a little bean while she got the last sobs out. Then we put her pants back on, got a snack, and sat together for a while on the couch. All is well.
As much as I want to bark, “You have nothing to cry about, Remi!” at times like these, I also want to honor that the feelings she’s having are real. To her, they’re real. When I am not losing my patience, which I do fairly regularly to be clear, I appreciate that she has not yet learned to smush down her feelings for other people’s comfort. At some point, Remi will learn how to pretend she doesn’t have feelings. She’ll learn to say it to herself, “You have nothing to cry about, Remi!” I don’t need to model it for her.
My parents say I never cried. I was 17 months when I came to the U.S.A., well before the typical cut-off for emotional intensity for most kids. I’m sure I did cry and that their selective memories of me as a toddler privilege the moment of robust laughter more than the tears. That said, it does seem true that I cried far less than expected. When my younger sister arrived at 13 months old, she cried all the time. My parents were woefully unprepared.
I was abandoned before I was adopted. My birth family is unknown. My parents were sent photographs of the large purple burn marks on my right arm to be sure they still wanted to adopt me. I still have those scars; they’ve faded quite a bit. I believe that I cried less. As an adult, I’ve spent more time reflecting on why I cried less.
I may have been an absurdly emotionally well-adjusted child. I want that for my toddler self, truly. I wish that felt true in my heart.
Remi felt very secure to go to other people from a young age. We left her for an overnight with a family member for the first time at eight weeks. We left her for multiple days with another family member when she was just over three months old. “She’s just like you!” my mom remarked, meaning she was happy to go to other people without a lot of fuss.
But as she got older, she got a little more upset when we’d leave her for a weekend or a few days. She still adjusted well, but she needed a little more time to say goodbye or would cry a bit when we left. When we left her at our babysitter’s house for the first time, she wouldn’t calm down. She cried for the first few weeks. Then, once she was more sure of her surroundings and the people caring for her, she started to love going there.
We’re lucky to live relatively close to our parents (within two hours) so Remi has spent a lot of time with them both with and without us. I used to travel every month for work and Waffle has a very inflexible schedule at his job, so she spent a lot of time at Gramma and Pa’s house. She still gets a little sad when we’ve been gone for a few days, but she feels comfortable in both of her grandparents’ houses and always runs right in when we arrive.
Babies begin to develop an emotional attachment to their primary caregivers around six months. (Harsh, but true.) Remi likes to do everything a bit early, so she started around four months. This bond is strongest between six months and two years.
At 17 months, I would go to anyone and be all smiles, according to the stories I’ve been told. I just believe, now, that I wasn’t a magically happy baby, but that I dealt with my infant anxiety and distress in a different way. If you read about the original attachment style research by Mary Ainsworth and Mary Main in the 1970’s, my toddler behavior is the textbook anxious-avoidant insecure attachment style.
The study argued, essentially, that avoidant attachment develops in an infant when they experience neglect to the point that they come to anticipate that their needs will not be met no matter how much of a fuss they make. In response, they enter a sort of self-preservation mode that makes it seems as though nothing bothers them. They’re likely to not show distress if their caregiver leaves and to project behavior that helps them deflect from their actual desire for closeness.
Oof. It’s very me. Ask Waffle. Perhaps my, “I’ll go to anyone and have no emotional reaction about it and never cry even when it seems logical that I should cry,” attitude as a young toddler was a symptom of veiled distress, not a sign that I was left unharmed by my abandonment and adoption, as my parents had supposed and I wish felt true. It makes a lot of sense especially if I had a tumultuous family life in Korea. Even if I didn’t, the fact that I was separated at 17 months from my first home and my culture could have been enough.
To confirm their theories about avoidant attachment in infants, later studies on attachment theory measured infant heart rates which showed in at least one study that avoidant attachment style children, while not showing outward signs of distress, did experience a rise in heart rate correlated with their caregiver leaving. In other words, people like me are just really good at hiding how we feel.
As Remi’s gotten older, I’d say she’s definitely very emotionally attached to us. Preschool was a harder transition than I’d expected. The teachers actually called me to come and get her on the second day of Pre-K because they thought Remi was very ill. She wouldn’t stop crying and fussing. I took her home and she was fine. She had a cold, so the runny nose and coughing surely made it look like she wasn’t well, but she was running around and laughing and very much herself once she got home.
The next day, we let her bring her lovey, Dino, to school with her teacher’s permission and I made us stretchy cord bracelets with three beads (representing Remi, Waffle, and me) to hold our kisses for her. I told her she had to stay at school and that I would be back to get her and she could keep our kisses with her all day in case she felt sad. We still kiss her bracelet every school day and she kisses ours. It took her a couple of weeks for her to settle in. She used to say, “Mommy! You came back!” every single day when I arrived for pick-up. She likes going to school now. She hugs her teachers goodbye and says, “Hello” to her classmates when she arrives. Today, she had the day off for the holiday and she told me she wants to go to school.
I’m a fairly well-adjusted adult and I owe all of that to my parents who loved me with every bit of themselves and gave me every opportunity to bond and become more secure in myself and my home. Too many transracial adoptees have not fared as well as I did. According to one study, adoptees are four times as likely to commit suicide than non-adopted people. I have heard of a number of Korean adoptees in my own city, as recently as this year, many of them teens, who took their own life.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt suicidal. I’ve manifested my attachment issues in different ways. I’ve always had weird trust issues with loved ones. I’ve always kept my guard up even around my closest friends. In friendships, I often took on the role of the funny friend, the silly one, the best friend who will try to help you solve all your problems. I didn’t like to and still don’t like to focus on my own problems.
Even as I write this column, I mete out exactly what I want to share with y’all, always maintaining control of my narrative and also thinking about who might read it: my parents, my friends, strangers on the internet, future parents, Korean adoptees, who else? It may seem like I’m an open book, but I’m curating this content very carefully and, you may have noticed, often through the lens of humor or theoretical musings as I insert my story into a larger cultural narrative to try to keep the personal from becoming too specifically personal.
Part of the decision to send Remi to early Pre-K at three-years-old is that I work from home and it was becoming stressful for her to play all day by herself at home with me. It’s a good skill to have as an only child, to be able to escape into your own imagination for a while. As she got older, though, she wanted and needed more engagement from me.
Ironically those early months, while exhausting as hell, are more predictable for a typical work day schedule. Yes, Remi wanted to eat every hour but I could also just breastfeed her while on a conference call and no one was the wiser. If she was tired, I could strap her to me in a baby wrap and bounce her to sleep while I checked email. It was much harder and also simpler when she was small and immobile.
As Remi rounded three years old this past September, I knew it was time to either send her to Pre-K or to daycare. There was a lot of TV Babysitter happening because developmentally a two-year-old and three-year-old can’t just play for hours by themselves without becoming frustrated. There were times when I hid in the kitchen to take a phone call with my boss while Remi searched the house for me. There were times when I couldn’t help her do something because I was on a video call and she’d lay on the floor scream-crying while I nodded politely to my colleagues with my microphone on mute.
I didn’t feel good about it and it was time for Remi to be engaged in play and learning and to know that her needs were going to be met by a caring adult consistently. I wanted to make sure her needs for social and behavioral engagement weren’t being ignored and especially not by me.
Remi’s smart. That is something we have in common. She’s highly emotionally intelligent, even at three and she has a mind like a goddamn sponge. I am constantly amazed at the amount of detail she processes and recalls. She’s become more aware of what it means when I’m working. She pouts when she wants to play and I have a deadline to meet. I’m not upset that I sometimes have to deny her when I’m working. I think it’s OK in moderation. I also have the type of job where I can pick up a play session or a park date in between meetings and I try to do that as much as possible.
I want Remi to know that I’m here for her while also cultivating her skills for independence. She loves to do things herself. She also still wants me to do things for her sometimes. Sometimes she tells me to, “Go away!” but just as soon she wants a hug. We tell her, “You can always have a hug,” even when she’s been bad because we always are here for her. A hug definitely doesn’t mean she’s off the hook, but we will never leave her alone in time-out for too long and we’ll be ready to comfort her until she’s ready to talk to us about what happened. Most times, she wants the hug.
4 Queer Parenthing Things I’m Currently Overprocessing
1. Making Memories on a New Schedule
Waffle’s schedule changed again, which means goodbye morning dates and hello seeing each other for dinner every weeknight for the first time in… over 12 years. We’ve been on opposite schedules for most of our relationship. So this is very different. It’s great for Remi, who was almost never awake at the same time as Waffle since she started school. We pushed her bedtime up which meant Waffle usually got home after she was in bed.
The very big downside is that Waffle has to get up for work at four in the morning, so he’s always exhausted by the time he gets home. The upside is that we get family time together, as a family. It’s still new and weird and exhausting in its own way. It’s nice to have everyone together for bedtime again.
Just before the schedule change, Waffle had a few scheduled days off from work. His warehouse makes employees take full weeks off for the bulk of their vacation time. We did our grown-up trip to NYC over the first weekend of his vacation and then he had a few days of staycation. I randomly and singlehandedly decided to take us on an impromptu family trip to Toronto to go to the big aquarium and zoo. If you’re not aware, one of Remi’s favorite things is the ocean and all ocean life. Another big fav is going to the zoo and there is a HUMONGOUS zoo in Toronto.
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Sometimes you wake up in Rochester go to bed in Toronto. @kaelynrich decided to take a to see @ripleysaquaca in Toronto. It is a very cool aquarium and Remi had lots of fun. We got to the hotel (right ext to the aquarium) and while waiting for Kae to check in, Remi and me were hanging in the lobby. All of a sudden, Remi starts excitedly yelling about seeing an aquarium. I figured she spotted a fish tank somewhere so I looked around and after a moment realized she spotted the aquarium across the street. There were no pictures of animals only the logo with a shark outline but she found it right away! The shark tunnel was the coolest! 🦈 #daddydino #babytrex #aquarium #ripleysaquarium #toronto #fish #sharks #minivacation #roadtrip #marinelife #familyfun
Just by chance, our hotel room has floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the train tracks of the public metro. Trains are another favorite thing for Remi! It was a Remi dream vacation that lasted just over 24 hours. We really did it up with breakfast in bed and Remi and I got to share a bed, which was very sweet and not at all restful. She only fell off the bed once and she landed on her feet. Phew.
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It’s #tbt and even though I hate 5am still, I am happy to see more of this kid who I’ve been missing. Throwback to a few weeks ago when we were in Toronto. Remi really enjoyed that hotel life. What’s not to love? There was floor to ceiling windows, a city view to see lit up at night, a train station right below to watch in the morning, sleeping a big bed with mommy, room service breakfast in bed with cartoons, and of course, Dino. #babytrex #daddydino #toddlersofinstagram #hotel #toronto #floortoceilingwindows #trains #roomservice #breakfastinbed
Oh, and she took her nap in the wagon at the zoo. It was, like, 40 degrees so we bundled her up and I let her use my jacket as a pillow and she totally passed out and then we ended up doing this because we’re still assholes. Also, we wanted to see the zoo, too!
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So we spent all of Sunday afternoon at the Toronto Zoo and so naturally, Remi got sleepy when nap time rolled around. She laid down in the wagon and fell asleep. We debated leaving but we were enjoying the animals and we were going to get our admissions worth damn it! So we set off to see more animals and this is a photo series I like to call Remi sleeping in front of animals. There is of course some pics with the statues because she definitely would have sat on them! Animals include baboon, zebra, cheetah, greater kudu, tortoises, river hog, monitor, and hippo. On a related note, about 10 minutes before the zoo closed, Remi looked at her map and happily started chanting, “ok, time to find the zebras!” It was a bit sad to break the news that we had to leave without seeing them so it’s good I had pics as proof that we took her to them. #babytrex #daddydino #toddlersofinstagram #latergram #torontozoo #naptime #familyfun #animals
2. Parenting Things I Google This Week
- ringworm or rash
- toddler cooking ideas
- safe toddler nail polish
3. Obviously You Were Wondering
The last Baby T. column was written right before Halloween and I know you want to know what Remi’s costume was! I present to you, a scaaaary bat!
4. A Virgo At Horsey Play
This child is hilarious. She has lined up all the available horses in the barn, with water cups and additional water storage in the hay loft. I can’t wait until she’s old enough to be my executive assistant. I need this attention to detail in my life.
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In today’s Toddler Tableau: Remi finally located horses that would fit in her barn. The horses are currently in for the night- complete with fence on the back. They have lots of water cups throughout to keep them hydrated. There is also a emergency stash of water barrels in the loft because hydration is important kids. #babytrex #daddydino #toddlertableau #playtime #toddlersofinstagram #farmlife #horses