Saturday, March 7, 2009

My boy

(Mother and Child by Mary Cassat)

The other night, my ten-year-old son was in distress and needed to sit in my lap. I say needed because lap-sitting is not something that ten-year-old boys typically want to do. He was overwhelmed with fourth grade stress. “I can’t take it anymore,” he sobbed. I looked at his watery face and invited him on to my lap. To my surprise, he climbed on up and curled up into a ball, which is no easy task—he is nearly five feet tall, all arms and legs.

As he poured out his worries, I found myself stroking his hair and cheek, both of which felt almost as soft and smooth as they did when he was a baby. I watched with wonder as my motherly ministrations slowly began to soothe him. I held his hand, caressed his face, buried my nose in his hair, and told him that together, we would figure things out. After a while, he began to breathe more slowly and he relaxed the scrunched up muscles around his eyes and jaw.

I was overwhelmed with tenderness, as most mothers are when they see their children of any age crying. And that old feeling of wanting to fix everything for him came charging up inside of me. He is like me in so many ways. He holds high expectations for himself and fears disappointing people. He worries himself into knots, and hates being compared to others for fear of not measuring up.

It is so easy for my 40-year-old self to forget how stressful and overwhelming life could be when I was 10. My baby boy and I are not happy-go-lucky people. We sometimes need help putting things into perspective and managing our worries. So, I know that some of the tenderness I felt that night came from the realization that I was looking in a mirror.

But I was feeling another overwhelming emotion as well: gratitude. It has been a long, long time since I have held my crying child close to my body. A long time since my lap has been a place of healing and refuge. I experienced once again the most primitive of motherly instincts. My baby was hurting, and he needed my body to help him heal. And for a few moments, I was all he needed. I felt alive with mother-love and with the fierce, primal instinct to protect my child.

Is it wrong to enjoy such a moment as this? Is it perverse?

Of course, I wasn’t the answer to all of my son’s problems. I haven’t been since he was an infant. He had to go back into the fourth grade jungle the next day. I can’t follow him around and gather him into my arms whenever he starts to feel stressed. He doesn’t want that, and neither do I. But for a while last Wednesday, I was all he needed. He pressed his body close to mine so he could stop the universe for a while and just breathe.
And it was wonderful.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this is exactly how I feel. In fact, I think I'm going to forward it to my son so that he can "understand" my mother-weirdness when he catches me standing over his bed in the dead of night . . . watching . . . or when I follow him around the house, begging to clip his toe nails, as if such a simian-grooming task could ever sate my human-longing for connection--any connection.