His first muffled cries break the quiet of my afternoon grading. I look up from the stack and pause, waiting. “He’s okay….” And slowly they build; escalating to that space where I know “self-soothing” is not in today’s plans. “He’s not okay.” At least I think I know. When to go and when to wait just a little longer has been a constant wrestle with myself since I first placed him in the crib and tiptoed away. It pushes on one of my great questions in raising children; How do I know which battles are his to journey and navigate on his own, which do I carry him through, and which are those that I can only catch him afterwards and nurse the scraped knees or aching heart.
I go, quietly peeking around the door, hoping to catch a glimpse of him before he sees or hears my footsteps, just in case I’ll be able to slip away. His sobs and tears pull me into this space, as I was still detaching internally from the papers below and tomorrow’s plans yet incomplete. His eyes are clouded and stare across at the wall, cinched brows trying to make sense of the world he’s returned to, his mind still divided as well and not yet fully here. I crouch down, rub his back and tell him that I’m here, ask if he’s okay; wanting the sound of my voice to ground him in this space.
In my arms his cries continue and I carry him outside, hopeful that the fresh air and movement will draw him fully awake and back to the comfort and safety of the now. At times I fear that nothing I do will bring him back, though not for lack of trying. Maybe the sunshine or the wind or my voice or my quiet, each time is different. Today, it takes a walk. I’m not sure how many minutes pass before his tears quiet, his body grows heavy, his breathing slows and his head settles into the curve of my neck.
Inside I rock on the balls of my feet and shift my hips slowly, as I have since he weighed a third of what he does now. I’m torn. Drawing my own comfort and meaning from being needed in this way. Warmed by his body. Slowing my own movements and breath. And yet I’m anxious at the thought of more work unfinished, incomplete and children who need my attention in a wholly different way. Still undecided, I drift to the couch and slowly settle in, wondering if he is truly asleep again. Grateful that at least he is calm.
I know the moments where he can rest on my chest and take comfort in my body are passing and my divided heart still allows me to grasp at them and know they are precious. At two, the time grows farther between them. And truly this little one has been drawing away from me since he could crawl; only increasing with speed as his legs have strengthened and supported his will for adventure and independence. He’s a reminder that though I claim him, he has really never been mine. He is his own, passionate to carve out a place in this world. So desirous to taste, feel and engage in what comes across his plate and through our space each day. God, give him just a small ounce of caution. Please.
Eventually, I do choose. To rest now, slow my own breathing. Close my eyes until he is again ready to open his and see his home, and me and upon waking forget or at least move past whatever dark images caused him so much fear and pain. Wrestle my own mind to this moment, comfort, quiet, peace and not be there, but be here.