When María first arrived from México, she was extraordinarily self-contained. She’d had to be. As one who grew up learning to ‘read the instructions’, I had immersed myself in the literature of reactive attachment disorder and already knew that María not liking to be touched or held was a symptom. I’d also read that one way to break through some of the resistance to being touched would be hard at first, and then something powerful and good for her and her family.
I’d pick María up against her will and get into our pool in Florida, slowly walking with her to where it was deep enough that only my head and shoulders were above water. María would scream bloody murder but would cling to me. I’d stand there singing to her, holding her at first fairly loosely and then more tightly. It worked. María became more willing to be consoled when she needed consolation. She also fell in love with swimming and water games and hanging out in the pool. For a while, her games got rough, but year after year while she was a child, there were endless games to invent with each other, all of them wonderful for their ability to allow me to draw close to my girl.
Occasionally, Sherod and I grumble about the pool in our farm—pools require so much upkeep and are of use for a smaller window of time each year. Nonetheless, last year I stumbled on a flamingo float that made for a perfect Christmas present for the spouseman. We have given each other flamingos of all kinds through the years. Yesterday, while I drove to Atlanta to pick up our girl for her last summer visit, Sherod finally pulled out his present. Soon after María and I got home, we stood around him watching him use an air compressor to blow the float up. Mo went nuts. The chicken girls, who’d been out for their afternoon stroll, totally freaked, squawking, flying away as far as they could from the monster that had appeared out of nowhere. I gathered the girls back up into the chicken yard. Sherod tried to reassure Mo (who remains highly suspicious even this morning, looking out the window while he growls at his most fierce). Then, the three of us jumped in the pool and had the time of our life, figuring out how to get on the flamingo and stay on her, playing shark when any of us managed to get on and stay on, laughing and hugging and, in my case, marveling at the power of water to heal, to hold, to renew and refresh and baptize us as beloved.