posted May 18, 2009 at 1:25pm
The other day, Sophie walked into the kitchen, threw her short arms around the knees of the man installing the cabinets in our kitchen remodel, and announced with Lena-Dunham-intensity, “Mark, I love you. You’re my valentine.”
Let’s just say the two of them had not spent much time together before this moment.
Mark smiled and looked a little freaked out and I smiled and looked a little freaked out — and hustled Sophie out the door to school.
To be fair to Sophie, Mark did seem like a nice person, and it’s true that she doesn’t do this kind of thing as much as she used to. When Sophie was 4 or so, I remember expressing grave concern to one of her therapists about how she would often run up to random strangers in the mall and hug them. The woman looked confused for a minute, then she got it.
“You think she’s going to do that her whole life, don’t you?” the therapist asked, smiling kindly — and condescendingly.
Well, duh. And although it’s gotten better in the last six years, I’m still not unconvinced. Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, and Sophie was in her prime — writing love notes, giving gifts, offering hugs and kisses. Pretty much acting like she acts every day, only on Valentine’s Day it’s cool to do that.
I know what you’re thinking — you’re thinking that really, it should be cool to do that every day, and that I’m uptight. I agree. But I’m also concerned that Sophie’s emotional thermostat is set too high — that she’s not able to appropriately manage and express her feelings. And that while that tends to be adorable on an almost 10 year old, it won’t be so great when she’s 20.
But the thing that worries me even more is that she’ll stop being that way.
I think about Megan, the bagger at our Safeway, who’s clearly been trained to never make eye contact beyond the “Thank you!” at the end of each shopper’s experience. Or any of the women with Down syndrome we see each Saturday at Special Olympics cheerleading practice. These women don’t offer hugs and kisses; they don’t even say hello. They shuffle past in their own little bubbles and I don’t know why. Maybe because when they were 10, their moms worried that some day they’d be grown women hugging strangers at the mall — so they began the task of wringing that out of them. (I can’t blame them. I know the kind of bullseye Sophie has on her. This is about more than niceties — it’s about safety.)
Maybe it’s just that it’s the wrong setting — and outside of Safeway, Megan makes Wii Miis for all her friends and kisses them on the tops of their heads. Maybe when they’re not at Special Olympics, Sophie’s fellow cheerleaders tell their moms they love them 10 times a day — and the truth is that the moms secretly love it.
I don’t know. And I’m afraid to ask.