It’s been 3 full days since the shooting in Connecticut, and my mind continues to loop around the information, photos, and reactions surrounding the event. Even though my heart breaks a little more with each bit of new information that I read, I can’t help but continue to come back to it, as if finding out more information will somehow fix the problem or put my mind at ease. Although I have accomplished neither of those things, my continual venture into this topic has helped me to see a pattern. So many journalists have ended their articles or began their newscasts with the same thought many parents are sharing on facebook and twitter: Parents are holding their children a little closer than normal these days.
This is particular poignant for me at this stage in my life right now. Two months ago I had my second daughter — a beautiful, laid-back dark-eyed baby that has captured our hearts — and I’ve spent all my time since then on maternity leave from teaching. For two months now, I’ve spent every day with my new baby and my two-and-a-half-year-old. I’d like to say it’s been a joyous, wonderful time in our house, but I can’t say that with a straight face. It has been a time with a countless number of joyous, wonderful moments, but those are also mixed with some serious challenges that I’ve had to face as I readjust my life and learn what it means to be a mother of two instead of one.
Most of these challenges are not raised because of the baby, but rather my oldest. Eva has always been an independent-minded girl. She likes to figure things out and because of this, she usually insists on doing things on her own, even if they are things she is not capable of doing on her own yet (like pouring a cup of juice, cooking her dinner, or adjusting her bath water temperature). So it was both shocking and frustrating to me when she started regressing a bit once her new baby sister was born. She started crying for someone to carry her down the stairs and into buildings and getting upset when she was referred to as a “big girl,” wanting instead to be called her mama’s “baby girl.” All throughout the day, she has been trailing behind me with her arms raised begging “Hold you?” in an effort to get me to carry her on my hip everywhere I go. Everything you read as a parent tells you this behavior is totally normal and that the best thing to do is to help your child recognize that things are different now and that he or she needs to learn things like patience, sharing, etc. and to set aside a special block of time to focus just on them if possible. So, being the parent that’s trying to do the right thing, I did what I thought I was supposed to: I stuck to my guns, I didn’t give in to her cries and refused to do things for her that she was fully capable of doing herself. Every “Hold you?” asked at a bad time was answered with a quiet and steady reason as to why I couldn’t hold her at that particular moment in the most loving and caring tone possible.
And then this happened. I didn’t hear about the shooting until hours later because I was busy with the girls in the morning, then feeding Eva lunch and getting her to take her nap, and then scrambling to get as much done as possible while they were both sleeping. When I finally had a moment to take a break, I hopped onto facebook and was immediately hit in the stomach with the news of what had happened. My eyes were glued to the coverage, not fully believing that these early reports of fatalities could possibly be accurate and waiting patiently for some new and better information. It didn’t come. Instead, I sat alone on my couch, watching my baby sleep in her sleeper next to me and our Christmas tree lights reflecting off the several gifts I had already wrapped and labeled with my children’s names. I thought of the Christmas presents across that town that were already wrapped, the letters written to Santa that would go unanswered, the joy of so many Christmas mornings sucked away like a vacuum for these parents that would walk around forever with a hole in their heart where a child and the lifetime of lost memories should be.
Eventually, Evalee clambered down the hallway in a sleepy daze, hair sticking in all directions from a stubborn sleep, and with her eyes still half-glued with sleep she raised her arms and asked, “Hold you?”
I wrapped my arms around her and she clung to me, relieved that I hadn’t turned her down. My mind instantly jumped to those twenty mothers that would give anything at all to be able to do this with their own children just one more time. And as I hugged her and rocked her and let silent tears wash into her hair, I re-evaluated what it meant to be a mother of two.
We were heading to my parents’ house once their girls woke up from their naps, so with a heavy heart I started putting the baby in her carseat and helping Eva strap on her shoes. I threw the diaper bag over one shoulder, my purse over the other, looped the carseat onto my elbow, and turned to look at Eva and said, “Okay it’s time to go. Grab my hand and we’ll get in the car.”
“Hold you?” she responded, her eyes both hopeful and sad.
I gulped and said, “Okay. Just a minute.” And I carried my load to the car, locked the baby’s seat in place, and headed back inside to Eva, who was still waiting at the top of the stairs.
“Come here, baby girl,” I smiled and scooped her into my arms and carried her down the steps.
I don’t know how long she will continue to be in this phase of clinginess and need, but if I’ve learned anything from the last two and a half years of her life I can say with certainty that it won’t last forever. Perhaps she’d grow out of it much more quickly if I continued doing what I was doing and helping her see that she doesn’t need me all the time. But I won’t really know for certain because I plan to continue to hold her whenever she asks me to. Maybe we’ll get dinner on the table 15 minutes later than the ideal time, and maybe I’ll lose an opportunity to run a load of laundry or straighten up the living room. Maybe she’ll even become a bit less independent for much longer than she should. But I will take that. Because soon enough she will spend each of her years learning to be her own person and slowly slipping away from me. 10 years from now when she is a couple of months shy of becoming a teenager, she will no longer ask for me to read her another story at bedtime or carry her down the stairs to the car. And 15 years from now she will be a few months away from graduating high school and leaving our house. And 25 years from now, when she’s gone being brilliant and fabulous somewhere all on her own, I will wish for a moment that she wanted me to hold her again.