Humans have measured distance since the time they could see to the far hills or traverse the savanna to the next watering hole. Mothers and babies even before time have had their own measuring stick.

Since we weren’t there, we can only imagine the prehistoric units of distance. Instead of miles or kilometers, it could have been how far a prehistoric man named Og ran before the pursuing lion caught him.

Mothers, on the other hand, know instinctively the optimal distance between them and their newborn baby. It is the focal length of the infant’s vision. In today’s values, it is 8 to 10 inches. This is the desired distance between the eyes of the mother and the eyes of her baby while they share nursing. Let’s call it the mcu, the mother-child unit. Generically, it is the pcu, parent-child unit.

Distance is calculated as velocity times time: d=vt. As the speed increases, distance is multiplied for the same period of time. To accommodate technology, different units of distance developed throughout history. A league, furlong and astronomical unit all have their unique definitions.

The speed of light, 700 million miles per hour, times 365 days makes a light-year. A ly is around 5.88 trillion miles. The IRS-permitted deduction for business travel is multipled as 56.5 cents times a lot. Imagine the refund! Distance is not just to the next star as it gets shorter going the other direction. There are an inch, millimeter, angstrom or a Planck measure or itsy-bitsy.

There are also emotional distances. Some are close; others are far apart. We all practice this personal intrinsic mcu from the second we are born.

Distance of security changes. There are times in love or need of comfort when we want to be so close that skin cells are too thick. Conversely if there is disharmony between people, being on the other side of the earth may be too close.

At the time of the minuet, the dancers would keep their distance and would barely touch hands. Then when the foxtrot became popular, men and women could actually hold each other. Now a dancing partner could be on the other side of the room and it would count as a slow huggy dance.

Parents and children also dance close and far.

The mother-child distance can be farther away in some relationships than others. If a mother or father has a tension-meter set high, the demands of life can be too much. On top of that, throw in the pressure of a child and the emotions overheat. To compensate when the child approaches, the parent for personal emotional preservation backs up.

This dance of balancing emotional energies is played out over and over as the parent and child interact over the million of minutes of togetherness. When the parent is overwhelmed and retreats, the child instinctively learns too close becomes too far. Throughout their early existence, little people understand intimacy is not to be. Inadvertently, the result is the child or adult never really feels complete.

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Distance between the galaxies is measured in light-years. The distance between a child and an estranged parent sadly can be defined in almost the same dimensions. It is the number of years, and it could be a lifetime, multiplied by the limited or absent security. It is called a dark-year.

In time of emotional needs, if children cannot approach a caring parent, their biological tension can convert to individual stress. This biological response then becomes the model of distance in their own lives and with their interpersonal relationships and children.

We can shorten the distance of the mcu or the pcu by practicing personal peace. Turn down our tension meters by simplifying our lives. Look for the signals of body language to activate proximity. Practice the dance of closeness. Then the pcu will be more like the Planck’s length, not Og’s.

Joseph Cramer, M.D, is a board-certified pediatrician, fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, practicing physician for 30 years, a hospitalist at Primary Children Hospital and the University of Utah. He can be reached at