Am I A Freak Because I Don’t Use Pet Names?

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From https://67.media.tumblr.com/

*Cringe*

What does it say about me that I’m unable to call my beautiful wife or daughter by a pet name? Pet names make me feel uncomfortable, false and unnatural, like I’m overly decorating my real affection with glitter and pom-poms. Whenever I consciously refer to my wife or daughter as “Honey” or “Sweetie” it’s like a red alert goes off in my brain – “FRAUD! FRAUD! FRAUD!” And that shouldn’t be the case.

My wife sometimes calls me her “Boo” which I’ve never understood, but she calls other people her “Boo” as well. I don’t think she has a special moniker for me or Sienna. She very easily switches between colloquialisms.

Is it a societal thing? Am I rebelling against a world in which pet names are ingrained thanks to television and film and Hallmark cards? Does not assigning pet names to those most precious to me mean I don’t adore them enough? No…although society does stress pet names a bit, I also feel that they’re fairly natural terms of endearment. Sometimes they derive from an inside joke or story. Other times they’re used to make people, particularly children, feel comfortable, safe and beloved.

I think my inner self recoils at pet names because I don’t think I deserve one myself – my self-loathing remains colossal. I don’t recall my parents assigning me a special sobriquet. My mom called me “Lorneeee” until I begged her to stop. I don’t remember my dad calling me anything other than my given name. Then again, there’s a very distinct possibility that I was so caught up in self-hatred that I couldn’t hear my mom calling me “Honey” or my dad calling me “Buddy.” It’s quite possible I just don’t remember. As I’ve said before depression is a narcissistic disease. You often only hear what you want to hear. I’ve written about how much I despise my name because no one seems to be able to get it right; how just about everyone thinks I’m female; how it rhymes with so many words that led to incessant teasing when I was younger. I think the fears and hatred I developed about hearing my own name spoken spread like a virus to all names. I tend not to call anyone by their names, especially if they were once in an authoritative position. For example, I’m unable to call my best friends’ parents’ by their first names even though my best friends have zero problems calling my parents Lynne and Howie.

So if I have so much trouble calling my wife by her first name, it makes sense that I’d be unable to come up with a suitable pet name for her with which I’m comfortable. But why am I unable to do so with my daughter? I don’t have any trouble calling her by her given name. None. But I feel myself trying when it comes to something like “Sweetie” and thus, I stumble. I merge “Sweetie” with “Sienna” so it sounds like “Swienna” which leads to funny looks from my daughter. It’s like a catch myself before giving Sienna a nickname or pet name. Maybe I’m terrified that one day she’ll reject it and/or cringe inside like I did when my mom called me “Lorneeee,” but it’s more likely that my depression, that I refuse to allow myself to be free of rigidity and stubbornness and self-aversion.

If I’m to grow, I need to get over my current inability to speak a person’s name aloud; it’s ridiculous that I’m 42 and I can’t call my someone I’ve known for 35 of those years by their first name. I found an interesting post by Elizabeth Landau on “Scientific American” about pet names in romantic relationships in which she admits there is not enough literature out there, but the majority points to an increase in intimacy amongst romantic partners (she also writes that pet names aren’t for everyone). But I found nothing scientific about pet names and children. Regardless and more importantly, I feel like I need to at least use general pet names for Sienna to help her feel more comfortable in the world and with herself, to give her inner strength and peace so that she goes to bed aglow with love. Or maybe she doesn’t need a pet name to feel good about herself. It could be that pet names and terms of endearment have zero effect on the psyche. I really don’t know. All I know is that my inability to use them gives me another opportunity to beat myself up and that is simply unacceptable.

5 Things I’d Miss If I Committed Suicide

The other day I had to pull over to the side of the road because of a cloud formation. It was one of those days when it’s sunny, but filled with fluffy, almost tangible clouds. Cotton candy clouds. The type of soft white pillowy things that you can imagine angels use as seats on which to play their harps…if you believe in angels. I sat in my car, the air conditioner on full blast, the Google Maps woman telling me to continue straight for 3/4 of a mile, and stared at the clouds. And I realized I’d miss them if I were gone. Well, technically I’d be dead so I wouldn’t even think about them, but often when one imagines death and suicide – before the psychological break that leaves them completely hopeless – one thinks of reasons to stay alive be it loved ones, pets, whatever. So since I think about suicide often and I’ve been having an extremely hard time of late, I wanted to write about some things about life that I love. I’ve already promised I’d never go through with it, but it’s admittedly getting harder. I need to see my psychiatrist and tweak my meds or find some other way to stop my mind’s negative cycling. To prevent this from becoming a list about family and friends, I’m going to leave them out. Even Sienna. So here are 5 things I’d miss if I committed suicide:

1) The sky – I can’t say that I’m amazed by the sky every day, but there are times when its beauty leaves me flabbergasted. Puffy clouds that look like objects. Pink, orange, red, blue sunsets that might as well be matte paintings. A red sun. True sky blue. The full moon so close that you want to reach up, touch its dusty craters and put it in your pocket. The enormous blanket of stars that appears away from city lights. The lucky glimpse of a falling star that gives you butterflies. The zigzag of a lightning bolt. Angelic sunbeams. Rainbows. It’s all so beautiful that it can make me stop in my tracks. My brain keeps going, of course. My mind never stops trying to tear me down, but sometimes, sometimes I can fixate on the sky and recognize its majesty.

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Floridian Clouds – Photo by Lorne Jaffe

2) A cat’s purr – There is something about purring that I find soothing, like a vibrating pillow or a white noise machine. When I’m feeling extremely low, my cat’s purr can bring me out of it. He sits on my addled chest and purrs and I let the vibration resonate through my body until the chest tightness goes away. Or I use him like a pillow, his fur warm against my face, his purr echoing through my head. And my thoughts dissipate. There is nothing like the soft, unconditional purr of a cat.

3) Animals – I love animals. Almost all animals. Especially in the wild. In Australia I watched as parrots and cockatoos flew above my head and settled on telephone wires. The beauty of such creatures floors me. During a trip to Zion National Park in Utah, my wife and I decided to take a midnight stroll on an easy path. We wore flashlights on our heads and listened to deer crash through branches right next to us. And then we hit the jackpot…or I did. I just happened to bend my head at the perfect moment and captured a tarantula that had just paralyzed a beetle in my flashlight’s beam. I stared at the creature, so excited that I might as well have been bitten and incapacitated myself. How often do you see a tarantula in the wild? In Alaska I was on a boat surrounded by a pod of killer whales including babies. Puffins flew above us hoping we’d throw some fish in the air. And then there’s the ocean – the coral reefs filled with gorgeous fish – great white sharks that leap out of the water showing 2 rows of Ginsu-sharp teeth – and the octopus, my favorite animal of all. This creature can squeeze itself into a jelly jar. It camouflages itself so brilliantly that you cannot distinguish it from the sand upon which it sits. I wanted to be a marine biologist growing up, but it never happened. I did, however, have an underwater theme for Bar Mitzvah. And if I could afford it, I’d have a huge salt water tank filled with the most unique and beautiful fish possible. Animals. I’d miss the joy of seeing them live, especially in the wild.

4) Chocolate – Chocolate is going to destroy me, particularly dark chocolate. If I’d won a golden ticket from Willy Wonka, I probably would have gone the Augustus Gloop route; I would have dove into that chocolate river letting the sweetness soak into my skin. Chocolate is by far one of my favorite things – chocolate mints, chocolate with peanut butter, chocolate with caramel or raspberry filling. My mouth is watering. Chocolate chocolate chip ice cream. Chocolate chips themselves. Essentially, this is me when it comes to chocolate

5) Travel – I love to travel. Just love it. The rush when the airplane takes off, knowing that all kinds of adventures await you. Paragliding in Alaska. White water rafting through the Swiss Alps. Watching the street performers on the Charles Bridge in Prague. Horseback riding in Bryce Canyon. Tubing down the Delaware River. Climbing the Harbor Bridge in Sydney. Experiencing history by standing on the same spots where legends like Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, etc., once stood. Learning new cultures and languages. Making friends all over the world. We don’t travel much anymore because we have Sienna, but that doesn’t mean we won’t ever travel again. It’ll get easier for us as she gets older and maybe by the time she’s a teenager, I’ll be able to go on my dream African safari. There are so many incredible places to visit and suicide would obviously kill any chance I have of experiencing the wonders of Niagara Falls; the Acropolis; giant redwood forests; the Great Barrier Reef; Victoria Falls; the supposed absurdity of Tokyo; and even the colorful autumn beauty of upstate New York.

I really needed to write about these things today. I had a rough weekend. I was sick as a dog and confined to my bedroom. My wife slept on the couch. I barely saw my family. And as usual I’d go on Facebook and compare myself to everyone else thus triggering the negative cycling. I thought about downing Xanax. I thought about jumping out the window. I imagined my head hitting the pavement and cracking open like a smashed pumpkin. I imagined going to sleep forever. I also had a severe panic attack at my therapist’s office and between heaving breaths I’d say, “I want out! I want out!”

There are so many reasons not to get out. So many reasons beyond my wife and daughter and family and friends. The glory of the sky might be enough. Or the potential to travel to China. Or maybe one day encountering a porcupine in the wild. Or attending a chocolate festival and tasting the greatest confection ever made. Or just listening to my cat purr in contentment. And that’s just 5 things. Just 5 reasons to stay in this often frightening, but still promising world. I only have one life. So when the suicidal ideation hits me hard, I need to remember to concentrate on reasons to stay. I got through the weekend. Now I’m going outside to look at some clouds.

To My Daughter – You Make Me Fight Harder

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“Spring Smiles” – taken by Lorne Jaffe

 

When your child enters the world, she changes your life in intimate and infinite ways. At first you’re more tired than you’ve ever been. You become used to screams – of hunger? thirst? discomfort? exhaustion? screaming for the sake of screaming? – searing their ways through the walls and over a staticky baby monitor. You become an expert diaper changer, something you never saw yourself doing. You don’t even mind when pee and/or poop gets on your hands or shirt or face (ok, you do mind, but you’re too sleepy to get upset). You realize you should have saved your college tuition for the zillions of Pampers you’re going to buy. You discover you can sing “We Are The World” for 3 hours straight while rocking your baby in a chair. Come on…that’s got to be a world record! But those are the minuscule things, not the unreal life-altering things to come.

 

You begin to relive childhood through your baby’s eyes. You remember how exciting a stick can be. You gaze with wonder at the moon as she points to it. You do anything to see her smile, hear her laugh. You share your childhood loves with her and sit on the floor playing princesses and Star Wars. You read her books once read to you. You become more tolerant. You become more patient. You now have empathy for those parents on airplanes whose children won’t stop crying. You feel a pride you’ve never felt when she runs to a friend who’s fallen and asks if he’s ok. You are a parent and your life has switched in an almost metaphysical way for you’re now a teacher to a little one that needs help understanding time and causality.

I’ve experienced all of those life changes since your birth, but the most significant has to do with my depression, a disease I’ve had since childhood. When you have depression, it’s insanely difficult to see outside the bleak clouds of your own negative thoughts especially when you’re experiencing a trigger or an episode. Before you were born I too often gave up without a fight, but now I need to be more aware of the vibes I’m giving off, my facial expressions, my body language, my mood and my disease than ever before because I can’t let it affect you. I can’t let it hurt you. So I fight those negative thoughts every second of every day and sometimes I lose, but more often than before I win. Sometimes I can feel the anxiety and heaviness coming on, take one look at you and your smile, and battle my way through. I make the concerted effort to sit with you on the floor of our apartment and watch you draw and imagine. I pretend to be a beast or a shark and chase you around while you squeal in delight. Sometimes in the park I’m hurting so I break out the bubbles and watch you chase them, mouth wide open in excitement.

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“Bubble Face” – taken by Lorne Jaffe

And sometimes you see it my eyes – the turmoil…the fear – and you come over and give me a hug and a kiss, tell me it’s going to be ok and I’m filled with such love and pride that that clichéd single tear slides down my cheek, my lips spread into a huge grin and I squeeze you tight and tickle you until you’re laughing so hard you feel your sides will burst. Before I would have been gone for hours, days mentally (and sometimes I still am), but I’m fighting harder than Muhammed Ali so I’m always there for you, so that you feel loved and safe.

I fought hard when I met your mom and throughout our marriage (as has she for she has the same disease), but not as hard as I do for you. It hurts to admit that in a way because I guess it’s admitting that I’ve relied on your mom for emotional support too much. I can’t rely on you for that. That’s not my job as your father. My job is to provide YOU with emotional support, to teach you and give you the tools to navigate this world while remaining a good, giving, loving, wise, beautiful, strong person. And so I fight the non-stop tornadoes and tidal waves of depression harder than I ever thought possible. That is how you changed my life in the most powerful and meaningful way and I vow to you that I won’t stop fighting.

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Sienna and Daddy – taken by Lorne Jaffe

So on this Father’s Day, I and many other dads are teaming up with Pampers. Pampers is honoring men whose lives changed upon the arrival of their child via a social media campaign called #ThanksBaby. In other words, Pampers is honoring dads like myself. So if you’re a dad, please tweet to #ThanksBaby and tell us how your life has changed since you’ve had your kid(s).

Thank you, Sienna. Thank you for making me fight so hard.

Love always,

Dad

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Welcome Home – taken by Elaine Borja-Jaffe

For more on this campaign, please watch this video:

And for more information about Pampers, please check out the following social media links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Pampers

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/pampers

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/Pampers/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/pampersus/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/Pampers

Disclosure: I have partnered with Life of Dad  and Pampers for this promotion.

Spring’s Heating Up So Cool Down With Zing Toys’ Wet Head!

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Not too long ago I had the pleasure of being invited to TTPM’s (Toys, Tots, Pets & More) 2016 Spring Showcase at which dozens of brands exhibited their favorite toys coming out this spring and summer. A bonus was that Sienna was allowed to come with me, so she was able to play with all of these cool toys while I watched her in action. I have to admit there were a lot of products I loved, but at the top of the list was a simple game called Wet Head. As I watched people try the game out, I wondered why it took so long for someone to produce it because it’s quite simply ingenious fun that landed on TTPM’s “Most Wanted Outdoor Toys” list. Here’s how it works:

You plug red plastic rods into the holes on a blue container that sits atop a yellow helmet. You then fill the container with water, strap the helmet to your head, hit a spinner and follow its rules. Now, why is this ingenious? Because after each turn you need to pass the helmet to another player and one of those rods you pull out will release the water getting you nice and wet! It’s Russian roulette with water!

So I watched people, both adults and children try the game at TTPM and you could see their faces scrunch up from the suspense – is this the rod? Oh no, the spinner says I have to pull out two rods! And I figured I’d like to test this out with Sienna and my family so I asked Zing if they could send me the game so I could try it out the next time Sienna and her cousins met up, and they were happy to do so.

We went outside and I explained the rules to the kids ranging in age from 4 to 12. Fill the container, flick the spinner, do what it says and pray and they positively LOVED it! Each time one of them would spin, the helmet wearer would close his/her eyes and bunch his/her face. As more rods disappeared, the tension would increase as would the giggling and cheers from those lucky ones not wearing the helmet.

Here’s a quick video. Just listen to the laughter and excitement!

Once the game ended, Sienna and her cousins couldn’t wait to refill and play again! They ran into the house, filled up the container and immediately started betting on who’d get wet!

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You can play with the spinner, ask each other trivia questions, or design your own wet head challenge game! You can even use different liquids (shh…kids…I didn’t say that…no! not the fruit punch!). The game’s designed for 2 or more players so it’s perfect for a family, group of friends or a party. There’s even a #wetheadchallenge where you can post videos and play against others online so long as you’re each wearing a helmet.

Sienna’s cousins loved it so much that I gave them the game since the 4 of them live close by while we live an hour and a half away, so I’ll to pick up another one just for us.
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And though I wish I could, I can’t finish this review without showing you a video of me picking the wrong rod:

Wet Head – brilliant in its simplicity and fun for the whole family! Run out and pick up yours today!

(Disclaimer – Thanks to Zing which sent me a free game to review for this post. My views and opinions are my own.)

Can Your Toddler Understand The Complexities Of Laughter?

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Last night Sienna and I watched an episode of “Team Umizoomi” before night-night. The episode dealt with how kids can receive an allowance for doing chores and save up money to buy something they want (though it went off the rails when the 3 Umi superheroes decided to go out, get jobs and make enough money to help this kid, David, buy a bike he desperately wants. I mean, isn’t that going against the episode’s initial lesson? David just sits back and collects his money while others do the work for him. But I digress).

Orange bills represented “Umi dollars” and Bot, a tiny robot hero, would collect the bills in his “robo money counter” which vacuumed up the currency and stacked it in a glass pitcher. By the time they were halfway through in their quest to collect 52 Umi bucks for lazy David, the pitcher looked like it held some orange liquid. This led to me pausing the TV as Sienna ran around the room all excited, spouting what’s going to happen once they fill the pitcher.

“Daddy! They have to keep doing the jobs because after they get all the money they can make money soup!!”

The girl was literally bouncing with this idea, eyes wide, hands flailing. It was as if she’d discovered how to turn lead into gold.

“Soup?” I said, “And then what are they going to do?”

She put on a killer smile, balled up her fists and jumped.

“They’ll add chocolate coins!!!”

And I belly-laughed because her idea was utterly brilliant and imaginative. I belly-laughed because my 4-year-old daughter made this shrewd, complex, whimsical connection between “money soup” and “chocolate coins.” I belly-laughed because it was so adorable, my 4-year-old girl wearing a pony tail and pink hair clips shaped like bows, big brown eyes as animated as I’d ever seen them, body taut as if it was a kernel ready to pop all over this idea only a toddler would form. And the next thing I knew Sienna had buried her head in a pillow on the couch, her body now slack.

“Sienna? Sienna? What’s wrong?”

She looked up from the pillow, a face drooping with devastation, her once glittering eyes now on the verge of tears.

“Sienna,” I said softly, “I wasn’t laughing at you. You said something so smart and perfect that it made me laugh. Come here.”

She crawled into my lap and I held her repeatedly trying to explain the difference between laughing at someone and laughing with someone, but it wasn’t working so I called to Elaine for help.

Elaine picked her up and Sienna pushed her head into the crux between her mommy’s neck and shoulder. As Mommy tried to explain that the chocolate coin connection was something so intelligent it was beyond her 4 years and led to my laughter – good laughter, fun laughter – Sienna would peek at me, her face drained of toddler joy.

My mind raced a bit. Anxiety. Sienna’s displaying anxiety. Is she getting it from me?

Despite each of us taking turns trying to explain the nuances of laughter, Sienna remained sad and eventually sat in Elaine’s lap on the couch. We put the TV back on and since it was near night-night, Elaine removed the pink bows from Sienna’s hair.

“Can I wear them tomorrow,” Sienna asked?

“Of course,” Elaine said.

“Will Miss Ilene laugh at me?”

This took both Elaine and I by surprise. Our eyes locked. We reassured her that of course Miss Ilene wouldn’t laugh at her; quite the opposite. I even imitated Miss Ilene, arms outstretched, greeting Sienna with an exuberant, “You look so BEAUTIFUL!!” Finally a smile and a giggle. Finally some pride.

Again my mind raced: Is someone bullying her at Pre-K? Laughing at her? Making fun of her?

I’d asked Miss Ilene about this during parent-teacher conference and she said that they’re extremely strict about such things, that there are consequences for such actions and that they teach that it’s not nice to laugh at anyone or make fun of others or hit or bully or do any such thing. My childhood eventually led to anxiety and depression.

I was an overly sensitive child (and I still am as an adult). I was bullied by my dad (he’s no longer like that) and my classmates. But I can’t remember saying something that made my parents laugh which led to devastation on my part.

Elaine too was an overly sensitive child and does recall experiences exactly like Sienna’s where she’d say something smart, the adults would laugh and she’d be crushed thinking that they were laughing at her. She says she learned the subtleties of laughter over time. Elaine also battles anxiety and depression, though she had much harsher life than me and bullying actually made her stronger.

My mind continued to race: The diseases of anxiety and depression run in families. Sienna is overly sensitive. Is she exhibiting early signs? Or is she just a sensitive kid unable to distinguish between different types of laughter?

All I can do is monitor her behavior, ask what’s going on at school; what’s going through her mind; how does she feel. Is she happy? I she sad? Angry? All I can do is watch and be ready to explain that laughter comes in many forms – some good, some bad – and reinforce that as her daddy, I would NEVER laugh at my one and only Sienna. Laugh with her, sure, but laugh at her, never. And hope that she’ll eventually understand before any damage occurs.

How do your children react to laughter? Are they able to distinguish different kinds? Do they get confused and sensitive? How do you teach your children about laughter and its complexities? I’d love to know because it might help me in my journey as a dad.