Monday, June 23, 2008


It began in January. My mother gave Sabra a chihuahua pet that would bring many a happy hour. I knew that Sabra would give Charlie a good home; that she would eagerly share her chocolate milk and bananas. But I didn't know then that Charlie would cause me to peruse the newspaper for a twelve-step group.

I have long been aware that humans like to blame their shortcomings and blunders on other people. We do this out of maliciousness, out of fear, and out of stupidity. It is both a learned and natural habit. As children we have the desire to shift the focus from our naughty sticky fingers to the first thing that pops into our head...No, Mom.....Um.....I didn't paint the bathroom walls with your expensive soap....It was....SpongeBob!....Yes!.....He told me to do it when I was watching the cartoon! Naughty, naughty little water creature! Mom, it must really mess with your brain to live in a pineapple under the sea.

And then as we age we get a little bit better at it:

I'm so sorry I'm late for church, Mom. I stopped to help a little old lady cross the street and then I saw that she needed new shoes so I took her to buy some which is why you might see a charge for Nordstrom's on your card statement. But really....What Would Jesus Do?

And then the process continues to 'mature' until sometimes it is hard to discern the truth within your own head. I fight with my thoughts sometimes, wondering what the 'real' issue is, what the 'unbiased and untouched' version of events would sound like. Did I truly feel sorry for breaking that hideous cheese plate that Austin's ex-girlfriend's parents gave us for our wedding? Perhaps I had some deep resentment that caused my hands to falter and send the shellacked pelican profile to the floor below?

Anyways, we weren't talking about new shoes or pelicans. Or the need for cheese plates. (Don't regular plates do the job? Does cheese require its own plate? I can understand a butter dish and a sugar bowl, but this china need seems out of hand.) Back to Charlie.

I was trying to herd the girls out the door for school one morning when I noticed that Sabra was hunched over in the corner. Not good. Quiet toddlers are naughty toddlers. I went to find out what type of mischief she was involved in when I saw that my mother's unwashable terracotta lamp was now sporting a lime green decorative flourish. Sabra's chubby little hand held the exact same hue of Crayola. Before I said anything, before I had time to try to hide this green update from my father, Sabra threw down the crayon and looked up at me, startled.


Pardon me? The stuffed canine just up and decided to ruin a lamp? Was he angry that it didn't match the table it was set upon?

Despite the fact that I was angry with Sabra for defecting yet another piece of my parent's furniture (if you haven't heard about the leather couch...) I laughed. I did; I laughed heartily and for quite some time. As did my mother. My dad found it slightly less humorous. He still isn't over the leather couch yet. Good thing he doesn't know about the other furniture updates.

As the relationship between Sabra and Charlie has grown, I have noticed that Sabra tends to blame poor Charlie for many things. Charlie spilled the drink, Charlie told her to get out of bed, Charlie hit Moira with the fork. (Charlie is very, very naughty)

I never really stopped to think why Sabra insisted that Charlie did these things. It made sense to me that she didn't want to get in trouble, and that was reason enough for her to blame him. It didn't make it right of course, but I didn't think that the situation required much digging or thought.

We flew to California a few weeks ago, and now that Sabra is two, the airlines insist that she have her own seat. Lovely. I paid for a seat for Charlie to sit in while Sabra tried her darnedest to not completely tear the plane apart. But she did have to sit and be buckled in her own chair during takeoff and landing. Sabra is afraid of almost nothing, save the vacuum cleaner and medicine. But she did appear to be frightened of the noise, the forward rushing sensation, and the flight attendant's makeup. I leaned over and asked her if she was alright. She looked at me, and I swear...without missing a beat, without thought or wry smile, she said the following:

"Mommy, hold Charlie hand. Charlie scared."

She offered me his dingy little paw and I held it. Moira, being the wonderful big sister that she is, willingly held on to Charlie's other (very outstretched) paw. Moira and I smiled knowingly at each other as Sabra toddler-whispered soothing remarks into Charlie's pointy little ear.

"S'ok, Charlie. Mommy here. Sissy here. Evryfing will be awwwwwite!"

I thought it was pretty cute. But I also thought that it was a little bit sad. Why did my two year-old not just admit that she was frightened? She is a very cuddly child, she doesn't shy away from hand-holding or soothing caress. Why would she not just hold my hand?

All I can figure out (besides huge, massive psychological issues) is that she was, for whatever reason, embarrassed. I don't know why she wouldn't want to admit that she was scared. Perhaps because Moira wasn't scared, or perhaps she couldn't feel my own fear of the plane. I don't know how she missed out on that. I don't get to take horse tranquilizers anymore before boarding the plane. Something about addiction....nonsense, really.

She wanted to be brave but somehow needed to show that she was indeed experiencing fear. Rather than just admit it or reach for my hand, she turned to Charlie, her lovable scapegoat. If we could all just focus on the dog and his fear, perhaps we wouldn't notice hers.

Alright, I highly doubt that this much information went through her head. But it has been going through mine.

I've been thinking about the plane incident not because I am concerned for her fear of planes. If she does indeed have planephobia, she comes by it naturally. I'll just hope that the helpful pills of relaxation are over the counter by the time she has to give up the Charlie charade.

No, I've been thinking about myself. Try to hide your shock.

For some reason it made sense to me that transference is very real. For all of you whose parents are not former therapists, I've included a lovely little definition.

Transference: The process by which emotions and desires, originally associated with one person, such as a parent, are unconsciously shifted to another.

As with many terms of this sort, it seems incomplete, as if the only way to fully explain the idea would be to 'feel it out' onto paper. As of the date of this blog, that is not yet possible. As they say, when pigs fly. As I say, when horse tranquilizers are OTC.

I've always technically understood the meaning of transference. How could I not? My parents would discuss the Oedipal Complex and other such delights while my sister and I were trying to watch our morning cartoons. For some reason, eye-gouging makes me think of biscuits...

Despite 'understanding' what it means to shift emotions from one thing to another, I really felt it with Sabra and Charlie. Perhaps a therapist would tell me that what Sabra was doing wasn't real transference. I know that this is probably the case. But what happened to me was that I looked at the situation with the scared airborne chihuahua and looked at my own life.

What kinds of things do I do to detract from my own feelings? What am I deflecting onto other people or objects?

I don't have the luxury of a security Charlie, but I do have the bowl of now empty chocolate medallions that kept me company last week when work was really hard.

I can't blame my fear on someone else; but yet, I do! How did I go this long without noticing?

I now see it with my kids all the time. Moira didn't want to leave the family reunion this weekend because she loves the feeling of belonging somewhere. She also loves the extra attention and stolen late-night kisses, both sweet and real. When we drove away she complained of a horrible stomachache. I knew what she wanted; she might not have. Sure, she knew that she already missed her family, but she probably didn't know that her 'stomachache' was really heartache.

So in light of this shocking, yet simple realization, I'm trying to do an examination. Not quite as awkward as the yearly examination the doctor does, but also not as fast. I'm trying to determine what I'm really thinking when I spend impulsively. Is it really a good deal, or am I sad and missing my sister? Do I just want some ice cream, or am I upset because I answered the phones all day? And how do you get to Sesame Street?

Being the wise and altogether informed reader that you are, I know that you have already arrived at this elementary understanding of your inner self. Please be patient with me while I explore these possibilities. It could change my entire life! One year from now, I could be on my world book-tour, signing autographs and having salad with J.K. Rowling! I could be on Jay Leno, talking about how I learned more about myself from a simple observation on a plane. I would show pictures of Charlie, and the audience would laugh.

Or maybe I'll just chuck the whole idea and buy more chocolate.

I'll share with Charlie.

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