It’s Father’s Day and I’m thinking about daughters.

About being one. About having one, a 4-year-old with newly-short hair, a bob, and she looks so much more grown-up, and so much more precious, at the same time. Like her hair is a cherry on top of an adorable beanpole, if there were cherries on beanpoles. If that were a thing.

What is a thing: She is devoted to me. She is in love with me. She is stubborn and passionate and tender and, at least two to three times a day, she is bereft. When not bereft, she is cheerful.

I asked my parents at dinner last night, “What was I like, when I was four?” and my mom said I was cheerful, sweet, agreeable. My dad said I was all those things and blonde, and active. I wonder when my sense of humor came in. My passion for self-expression.

By age four, I think, or maybe it was five, I was pulling out my eyelashes — it’s a condition called trichotillomania. I had to sleep with gloves on (white gloves, Ali, like Princess Sophia wears…). Ali chews her nails. I keep thinking she’ll grow out of it, but she doesn’t. My mom bit her nails from the time she was a little kid until she was almost 30.

When I’ve asked her various pediatricians what we can do to help, they say “nothing.” They say that as long as her fingers aren’t getting infected, we shouldn’t worry about it. There aren’t any infections, but they’re definitely red. It just looks painful.

One doctor said we could try putting gross-tasting stuff on her fingertips. I can’t bring myself to try that. It feels cruel. I’d clue her in, of course, and maybe it’s the only logical next step. It just doesn’t feel human, to paint your child’s fingertips with a substance meant to be repulsive. Maybe it is human, though. Maybe it’s part of motherhood. A part that does not come easily to me.

We could try incentivizing her with cool nail polish, too. I just don’t like gaming her. Even if she’s in on it. I don’t like to be gamed, so I try not to do it. Then again, this might be why I still have habits I would have liked to shed years ago. Like sometimes pulling out my eyelashes.

When I was born my maternal grandmother said “Oh, look at her long eyelashes!” I heard that story so much when I was little, and then I started yanking ’em out.

Apparently I wanted to be prized on my own terms.

There’s that self-expression.

4 thoughts on “Daughter

  1. Wow, I never knew that you had trichotillomania. You know The Bloggess aka Jenny Lawson? She has it (among other things).I think we all search for various mechanisms by which to gain some control, especially when we are young and aren’t given much leeway. Some kids refuse to be potty-trained. Some pull eyelashes. Some shout NO. Some bite their nails. I sucked my fingers.We continue to seek these "comforts" when we’re older when we aren’t taught good coping mechanisms in the face of life and all the ways we can’t control it. They aren’t always damaging, either. It’s only when they are that we need to learn other ways to cope. But we all need to find ways to cope.I have no specific advice in regards to the nail biting. Sophia also was and still is occasionally a nail biter. Sometimes nail polish does help her, even now. Perhaps a conversation (an ongoing one) with Ali about giving her things to do/more control over her body/life, would help.But also? Four is really really hard. For her and for everyone around her. :)xoxo


    • Thanks Sarah. This feels like a big hug. You are very insightful about control. I will try to think of ways to help her feel more of it. And yeah, re: the trich, I have never openly talked about it before. I didn’t know the Blogess had it too – will have to look up what she’s written about it. Thanks again xo.


  2. I stopped biting my nails when I decided that I wanted to. Ali does not want to. Ideally, we could find out why she doesn’t want to stop, or why she likes to do it…but why would we do that? Is it about her or us? Or both?


    • That is a very profound question. I will say that I didn’t used to worry (while you did), but she has bitten them down past the quick. Doc said it isn’t about any underlying psych issue – some people just chew and some don’t. I think Sarah is onto something with her comment about control. Xo


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