Parenting H

Month: May, 2014

It was the middle of bedtime, and he was playing with the food processor.

“Grandma,” H had exclaimed, popping up in bed and pointing at the bedroom door. “Grandma!”

He had heard the front door unlock, open, and close, and he would not be distracted into lying back down. He wanted to say goodnight to grandma. We got out of bed and found her in the kitchen.

Somehow in the course of saying goodnight, H became so engrossed with the stem of the food processor’s grating and slicing disc that I could not attract his attention. He inserted the stem on the food processor base and twisted it around so that it dropped into place. He took it off and put it back on again. Put. Twist. Drop. Put. Twist. Drop. He did it repetitively, without the novelty seeming to wear off, until he noticed the plug.

“Plug. In. Plug. In,” he said. His big hazel eyes beseeched me to move the food processor closer to an outlet.

“It’s time to get back in bed, sweet pea. Please put the cord back on the shelf,” I said to him.

“Cord. Plug. Plug. In. Plug. In,” he said, averting his gaze, as if not looking at me meant not hearing me.

I tried a dozen different gentle ways to get him to put the plug away on his own accord, and finally, reluctantly he did. He tucked the plug inside the pocket made by the upturned fabric cover hiding the food processor bowl and assorted parts, pushed the shelf in, closed the cabinet door, and crawled into my arms. We started back to bed.

Somewhere between the kitchen and the bedroom, H became upset. He twisted in my arms, making his body heavy to let me know that he wanted to be put down, and he cried. He gestured back toward the way we had come and said something that sounded vaguely like, “That. That.”

We stood in the dark of the bedroom together, H still in my arms despite his protests.

“You were having fun playing with the food processor,” I said to him. “It’s so fun to figure out how things work, isn’t it? Then you wanted to plug it in, and mama said it was time for bed. H said, ‘I want to plug the food processor in.’ And mama said, ‘It’s time for bed.’ H said, ‘Plug in.’ And mama said, ‘Bed.’ It can be so hard to stop in the middle of a project. I don’t like it either. Are you sad?”

“Angry,” he said through his tears.

Stunned, I pressed him closer. Could he really understand the difference between angry and sad at such a young age?

“Angry. You are angry,” I said. We stayed where we were, swaying together.

“Yeah. Yeah,” he nodded, and I felt the tension drain from his body. He quieted and said that he was ready for more milk, so we climbed back in bed together, and it wasn’t before long that he fell asleep, peacefully, nursing. I stayed a while longer, my cheek against his still silken hair, hoping that he will always trust me with his feelings, even the ones that he will undoubtedly be told someday by someone are bad or unacceptable, that he will never experience the burn of shame at feeling anger, that he will learn how to appropriately channel his anger so that he does not turn it back on himself. I hoped that he would know and be comfortable with all of his feelings, that he would have the ability to watch them arise and fall away without letting them sweep him away, that he would know through it all that he is okay.

I closed my eyes and wished these things for H and for the rest of us, too.


H and I laid together at bedtime, face to face, my eyes inches from his. It started with me pushing my cheek gently into his back while he sat reading Tumble Bumble. For some reason this made him laugh, and he threw himself back on the mounded up comforter behind him. I laid down, too, our noses nearly touching, and leaned in to brush my eyelashes against his cheek. He laughed even more before protesting.

“No. No,” he said, shaking his head, laughing still.

“No. Okay,” I agreed seriously, and I stopped.

He brought the tips of his fingers together and said, “More. More.” I leaned in for another butterfly kiss.

“No. No,” he laughed as my lashes touched his cheek.

I stopped.

We continued this dance for what seemed a blissful eternity, but surely was just minutes. Amid the butterfly kisses, protests, reversals, and a handful of eskimo kisses thrown in for variety, H poked his finger at my eyelashes, saying, “Eye. Eye,” and laughed and laughed.

I wish I could bottle H’s toddler laughter so that I would have it with me for always, for those times he will be with his father or at school or away on some as yet unseen grand adventure of his imagining, for when he is grown and off growing a family of his own. The sound I would capture is honest and true and all that is right with the world. It is pure happiness, pure grace, pure joy. It is a lifeboat that ferries me from the thoughts that flood out the peace in my head to a calmer place. If his laughter had a smell, it would be crisp white sheets hung on the line to dry, damp earth after a rain, freshly mown grass, maybe the smell of wet gravel and rocks.

H is a balm. His laughter saves me.

He has saved me again and again. When postpartum depression pulled out all the stops to convince me I wanted to be somewhere else, anywhere else but here, pumping milk for H and then breastfeeding him saved me. When I walked out of the hospital every night for those first 40 days of H’s life, my heart shattered into a million pieces, coming back the next day to sit by his side and hold him for as long as was allowed put me back together. When the cracks in my marriage spread and finally pulled us apart, H’s immediate needs helped me be braver and stronger than I ever knew I could be. The sheer fact of his existence has brought down the armor around my heart, rendering me vulnerable in ways that are both profoundly unsettling and profoundly liberating. His existence has challenged my assumptions about what is important in this life and has helped me become a better version of myself day after day. Because of him I am more patient, more kind, more forgiving, more open, more vulnerable, all of these with room to grow. I am learning to be less afraid to look at my dark bits, my imperfections, the things I do not like about myself. I am stronger, and I am softer. I know, and I don’t know, and I am learning to embrace this contradiction, to surrender to it, to shed black and white ways of thinking that cause disconnection and suffering. I am feeling more and more comfortable in my own skin.

H has no obligation to do any of this for me, not to save me nor to show me the way to saving myself. It is not, nor will it ever be, his responsibility or duty. I do not ask it of him, and yet he does it again and again. It is a gift he gives me unknowingly, an unexpected gift of motherhood I never knew I needed until he came along.

When he laughs, I pause. I take these moments whenever they come, be they in the middle of bedtime or when I am wrangling him into pants so that we can be out the door. The post-bedtime quiet alone time can wait. The appointment will be kept; we will get there even if it is a minute late. When he laughs, I close my eyes and still my mind. I am anchored in the here and now. H, his laughter, the call to be present, this is what saves me and how I save myself, again and again.