A few weeks after Will was born, the kids and I went to my Mom and Dad's house for a little visit. Andrew had been having a rough adjustment to having a baby in the house and being apartment-bound because of said new brother was not this 2 year old's style at all. Going for walks down my parents' dead-end road and adjoining bike trail was still one of our very favorite things to do and seemed to me to be called for at the moment.
I put tiny Will down for a nap in the guest room and took Andrew out. We were on the way back to my parents' house, taking our time to investigate every mud puddle and rock that called Andrew's attention, when I saw my dad come running up the road toward us, clutching an enormous bundle of down comforter. Lost somewhere inside was Will; I could hear him crying.
"I tried to calm him down and then your mom tried, but he just got madder and madder," my dad explained.
I took him from my dad and he immediately stopped crying. Initially I thought he may have finally succumbed to heat stroke (I think it was pretty warm out and that down comforter was just simply ridiculous). By the time I carried him back to the house, he was asleep in my arms.
And I had a thought.
My baby did not seem to have any particularized reason for crying. He was not hungry, he was not tired; he simply wanted to be held. But not by anyone. He wanted to be held by his mother.
Just like his two year old brother wanted to go for a walk, but not with just anyone, this brand new baby knew to whom he belonged and that was the only person with whom he wanted to be.
There is so much discussion of "quality time" and so much concern over what we should be doing as moms and how we should be doing it. That is perfectly appropriate, as our time should be spent in quality ways and it is often not easy to know how to handle the various situations that arise in parenthood.
But in the final analysis, as this little memory serves to remind me, all of the caring acts that comprise the daily ministrations of parenthood--diaper changing, bathing, shaking little toys in a baby's face, picking a child up from school, even--all of these simple acts that are so easy to denigrate as things that anyone could do, are not things that just anyone can do. Not, at least, in the eyes of the child. The fact that it is his mother that is doing them makes all the difference in the world to him. And to me as a mother. Perhaps the biggest mistake we can make as mothers is simply not being there to do those things, those simple, sometimes boring and taxing, things.
Realizing this makes me feel simultaneously more and less guilty about the job that I am doing as a mom. But motherhood, like anything else, is all about balance and common sense. We know we cannot and should not dote every moment on our children, and they do not need, may not want and should not receive every ounce of our attention and participation in their play, and every mother needs a break and should not feel guilty for taking one.
It is to say, however, that we need to seize this short day of our early motherhood. It all passes so quickly. I am already nostalgic for my children's earlier stages. In two years, Andrew will be spending more (waking) hours at school than at home. Maybe mothering a baby and small child is the most critical opportunity for us to lay the foundations for our bonds with our children. Children will spend their lives growing more and more independant of us, as is our job to teach them to be.
Though our job can be described as teaching our kids to no longer need us, the emotional bond we forge continues forever. One of my more macabre activities of late is reading black box recordings of airline disasters. In one of the recordings a member of the crew, knowing he was about to die and that there was a black box to transmit his final message, called out: "I love you, Mom."
Motherhood is about giving yourself away to the tiny people that we invite into our lives, who pay us back in double.
Thanks, Mom, for exemplifing this for me. Love is a home-made Egg McMuffin sandwich kept warm in a tin foil envelope by the front door at 6 am. And drawing smiley faces on little toes.