The thing about Ruthie—maybe it’s Hannah, but I think it’s Ruthie—is that she wants some kind of comfort for her separation anxiety, but she can’t do it herself.

I think this is like real life. There are other things we learn this way. First, someone guides us through it. Eventually we can do it ourselves, automatically, without thinking. Some little ones learn to throw a ball this way. Someone guides them through the action of throwing first. Eventually the adult guiding hand is removed. The child throws the ball himself.

I think it goes like this: You need comfort of some kind. You’re feeling anxious or maybe you cut yourself or fell down. You run to that person you trust to comfort you. They pick you up and hold you. And your body does this thing. The closeness releases a hormone that makes you a little bit happy and calm. You calm down because of it.

Later, you can remember that person who held you and you calm down because your body remembers what to do. The hormone perhaps is released without the physical presence of that person, or your body remembers what it did in response to that hormone and that hormone is not necessary. I don’t know. But that happens first.

Then eventually you can just tell yourself, “Deep breath. Calm down.” And your body remembers how to calm down. It can do, without the person even being thought of, what it did automatically in response to being close to that person who loved you.

Ruthie started out in the first stage. We’ve been holding blankets and fingering earrings and smelling shampoo and that has gotten her a little bit close to the second stage. The sensory trigger for the memory of being close to someone who loved us has helped her body to learn to calm down better. It happens faster and more automatically now. This is all to the good.

And today she moved into the second stage. I can call up a memory without the sensory trigger and she can calm down. She can’t generate the memories on her own—just as she couldn’t roll up the blanket herself to hug. But she can respond to a more abstracted experience of it.

That’s even better.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get to a place where I can just say, “Deep breath. Calm down.” But this is progress.

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