Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Making Faces in the Psych Unit

Daughter #2 formed the face you see in the photo on the right. I don't remember where we were living, just that we were overseas and it was about 20 years ago. She brought it home and I was amazed. Never had I seen such a face. I wish I could remember how she described it at the time. Much later she recalled that the piece was not originally designed to be a face but rather a little bowl of some sort. Somehow she changed plans and pinched it into a human (?) image.

Clay is a remarkable thing and not only when used by artists. It's very basic-- just you and the clay. No paintbrushes, needles or knives are required. Not even a potter's wheel. Your fingers can roll it, squeeze it and punch it, and most of the time it feels good. Most of the time.

I spent a couple of weeks in a psychiatric unit when we lived in Germany. As a patient, I should add. At this point in my life, over 18 years later, the experience is filed under Been There, Done That, Glad I Did- Though It Was Awful. What my experience has to do with clay is this: A smug occupational therapist, in his daily session with us, assigned the task of making someone out of clay. The Someone had to be the person we hated most in the world and, consequently, blamed for our misery.

I remember being surprised that I was the only one who formed my own self-- sitting down, legs extended, head bowed, hands in pockets. My comrades-in-distress came up with: husband, boss, ex-husband of fiance, former friend, and parents. Then there was Victor.

Victor was on staff, a psychiatric technician or "psych tech." Which means the Air Force may have given him one hour of extra training on how to be with crazy people. Victor's mouth, when it wasn't making an inappropriate remark, was shaped into a permanent smirk. I loathed him. . . him and his blonde buzz-cut, wispy little mustache, macho posturing, and icy blue eyes. He was probably no older than 21.

As I was being urged by the therapist to explain my model, I heard snickers. To my relief, my new friends weren't laughing at me. They were looking at Victor and his creation. Victor had made a lumpy-looking dog. The dog was squatting. The dog was, yes, you guessed it, defecating. Victor was still rolling little turds. (I know that's a nasty word to use, but there's just no other way.)

I don't remember the therapist's reaction, if he even noticed. I just remember feeling a new bond with Victor. Yes, Victor, that's exactly how I feel about this stupid exercise and about life in general right now.

Victor secured his improved status with me by helping us order pizza, then organizing us into a band of leering idiots before the delivery person arrived. When the unsuspecting pizza man stepped hesitantly into our game room, our crossed-eyes, stuck-out tongues and wild grimaces awaited him. He hurriedly took our money and left.

As I said before, isn't clay amazing? And aren't faces even more so?

Monday, October 9, 2006


All my talk about hand-holding must have made me go mushy. You were already mushy, I hear some of you saying. Okay, fine, agreed, but sometimes I am more myself than other times. This morning is one of those times.

Do you ever feel incapable of self-care? Or, maybe, just tired of doing it? Years ago, when Daughter # 2 felt sad or needy or, more likely, was in some sort of trouble, she would throw her head back and wail, “I need to be holded!” She was about 3 or 4 years old and life could be difficult for a middle child. Her older sister bossed her and her little brother bit her. She prayed about it (dear-dear-God-help-her-not-to-be-so-mean-to-me-and-help-him-not-to-bite-me-so-much).

And when relief didn't come quickly enough, she'd go for being "holded."

I dreamed last night that we had a huge party at our house. Being a typical dream, it was a party I hadn't known about, hadn't planned and hadn't wanted. People kept streaming in, oblivious to my confusion. My family wandered in and out of the rooms, vaguely happy it seemed, yet not really helping me give this party. I so wanted to be somewhere else but I couldn't leave.

I think I needed to be holded.

Sunday, October 8, 2006

I Wanna Hold Your Hand!

One of the main reasons I enjoy reading the New York Times is the quirky articles. By that, I mean that the Times-- and the Washington Post to some extent-- frequently explores issues that, at first thought, don't seem significant. But they are, and the Times reminds us of that.

Who would've thought, for example, that hand-holding merits serious attention? True, it is a relationship issue and a behavioral issue and a cultural issue. But it seems so minor. When I think of those kinds of issues, I expect to read about AIDS, or cohabiting, or sex education. Last week, however, the Times reported that the practice of holding hands is being studied.

I'm glad. Hand-holding is something I have experience with! On my first date many years ago, the boy I was with asked if he could hold my hand. How quaint, how sweet, you might think. But at the time I thought, How yucky. It's hard to explain my negative reaction, except to say that his asking took all the romance out of it. A few years later my husband-to-be didn't ask to hold my hand on our first date-- he just reached for it. Much better.

And I always loved holding my children's hands when they were young. I remember walking with my little boy in our small town in England, holding his gloved hand as we ran into a tea shop to waste time and stay warm while his sisters were having their weekly piano lesson. This won't last forever, I thought. Shortly after that, this same little boy was having a fight with his uncle as they toured Framlingham Castle. My brother-in-law instinctively reached for my son's hand. Castle walls can be dangerous places for children. My son was having none of it, and they proceeded to have their own battle inside the castle. (Having already been there several times, I was obliviously browsing in a nearby bookstore, though I may have heard some screams.)

I believe hand-holding is welcomed more often than resisted. Almost nine years ago my family lined up to be seated for my mother's memorial service. I saw my brother take my father's hand just as they began to walk up the aisle of the church. It was my dad's hand and not mine, but I felt reassured. We're together, we're all here for her.

And now studies tell us that holding hands makes us feel more secure and protected. Our brains really like it! I think I already knew that. But it's good to be reminded.