My son recently found the language for asking me to comfort him.
Something will startle him, or upset him, or he’ll get jealous when I hold the neighbor’s baby, and he reacts by reaching his pudgy arms up and begging, “Mommy hold you!” What he means, of course, is “Mommy hold me!” but this pronoun mix-up is too cute to correct right away. So, I scoop him up and plop him above one of my hips, where there are permanent indentations now where he fits right in.
Sinking all of his weight into me, he places one side of his pink, tear-stricken face on my shoulder. His belly balloons and deflates with deep sighs of relief that he is at last in his cocoon. But lest I let him down too soon, he digs his talon fingernails into my back and curls his toes around me like a monkey. He clings to me like a koala climbing a tree. Don’t let go.
Oh, little does he know how hard it will be for me to ever let him go. Little does he know how much I, too, crave our hugs, which are few and far between these days, as he barrels around the house and outside, seeing how fast those meaty legs of his can take him. I smile when he hangs on so tight, because he has no clue what an internal grip I’ve got on him. While I marvel at watching him grow and change, and while I admit I’m enjoying this toddler stage much more than the newborn and infant year, I still feel my heart clenching around his babyhood.
I spend every day with this child, almost every minute. We’ve got our routine down pat. Story-time and baby yoga at the local library – not sure who has more fun, the babies or the moms. Play dates now and then, but a lot of time alone, at home, building block towers and expansive train tracks that cover the living room floor, long walks no matter the weather, swinging at the park, singing our favorite songs, snacking around the clock. We split scrambled eggs and smoothies, and those Emerald nut snack packs; he gets the walnuts, I eat the almonds. I attempt not to allow screen time, and fail miserably. (The AAP modifying their guidelines has taken my guilt down a few notches).
Regardless of what each new day brings, my buddy is never more than a few feet away. Sure, we could probably use a break from each other once in a while, but I know that these sweet days are numbered.
I’m here to snuggle him when he’s tired, jump up and down with him when he’s excited. We laugh together, learn together – we’re bound together.
I have the ultimate say over where he goes, what he does, and what he doesn’t. I see and hear his every toddler first – watching him “whip” and “nae nae” was the latest, and greatest. I get all of my son, all the time – even, and especially, those epic tantrums.
It won’t always be this way.
I spoke with a friend of mine the other day who is pregnant with her second child.
“Maybe it’s the hormones,” she said, as we sat on a bench, gazing up at the baby blue sky spattered with clouds like stretched cotton balls, “but I’ve been weepy about the fact that my pregnancy’s almost over.”
“As much as I can’t wait to meet her,” she explained, touching her round belly as though she was already holding her daughter, “I’m sad that soon she won’t be this close to me anymore. I’ll never be able to keep her as safe as I can right now.”
“It’s not just the hormones,” I replied.
It’s hard to believe, and accept, that one day in the near future, I will be much farther than a few feet away when my son scrapes his knee and wants me to kiss it. He’ll be at school, and a few years later, at friends’ houses, and someone will help him, but it won’t be me.
It’s not an issue of ego though; for eight months of his life, I worked full-time and he went to daycare – that’s where he took his first steps. I was ecstatic about that news, but now that I stay home with him, I can’t imagine not witnessing his firsts. I can’t imagine relinquishing control again.
I want my son to go to school, to socialize and learn. I don’t take for granted that he is growing and thriving, and that we live in a place where he can get a good education. But I also can’t ignore the smoldering cinder block of fear spreading in my chest when I think of sending him, believing he’ll be safe at school – a horrifying uncertainty these days.
I picture saying “goodbye” on that very first day, unsure if the huge, hard pit in my stomach is a sign that I shouldn’t let him walk through those doors.
Goodbye’s with my own parents always took an eternity. Especially phone calls with my dad.
“Love you, too!”
“Love you more!”
“Nah! Ok, bye, love ya!”
“Bye, love you too, honey!”
“Ok, FOREAL — BYE.”
Many years ago, I found out why the dragged-out goodbye. “I’ll never be the one to hang up first,” my dad said. “I always wait for you.”
A decade later, he still waits to hear the click on my end. I understood then, but I get it more now – this need to hang on to your kids, while you can – to their words, their hugs, all of them.
I already miss this time, when I have my son to myself, when I can keep him out of harm’s way, when I possess this innate ability to make everything better just by my touch, by my words of reassurance – to feel in his embrace that I am all he needs right now (until his Daddy gets home, that is, and I morph into chopped liver!).
When the time comes, though, that I have to let my son fly, I will watch him soar and cheer him on (and be sure not to hover like a helicopter… I say that now at least). When the time comes that he’s too cool to cuddle, I will try to take it in stride. When it is time to share this boy who will always be my baby, I will take some very deep breaths (and perhaps get a prescription for Valium…). I will let him let go of my hand.
But I’ll never let go first.
And when he wants or needs to come back in for a landing – if he gets startled or upset – I will always be here waiting, ready to scoop him up, the indentations above my hips still intact.