Heart Strings

I never in my life thought I would say this. But here goes. I kind of understand people who have a whole bunch of kids. I mean, most of the time when I hear stories about families with 10, 12, 17, 20 or more children, I think something along the lines of “Ahhhhhhhhhh! No. F-ing. Way.” But recently I was thinking about it, and now I think those parents might be on to something.

First, let me say that I am in no way trying to be insensitive.  I understand that many people have large families for religious or cultural reasons. I also understand that in many parts of the world, it is preferable or even necessary to have as many children as possible to be workers and helpers.  I also mean no offense toward those who choose to adopt or foster many children, as I am in awe of parents who take that path.

However, what I have recently realized for myself, is that the love I feel for my son is somewhat addictive. When I’m away from him at work, I find myself daydreaming about inhaling his scent and kissing his soft cheeks. At night after our son is in bed, my husband and I often find ourselves obsessing over all the smart or funny things he says and does. There are many moments (certainly not all moments because TANTRUMS) when I feel so blissfully happy that it is completely intoxicating. And the thought of being without this exquisitely pure toddler love. This love who still lays his head on my chest for comfort. Who curls up next to me for naps. Who plants an impromptu sticky kiss on my lips. That thought makes my heart feel heavy. The thought that he will outgrow these practices (and rightly so because of boundaries and healthy relationships and blah, blah, blah). It’s just not appropriate for say, a 13-year-old to take a snuggle nap with his mommy. I know that. But it hurts.

So the thought of having another one, and then another, and another.  That kind of actually makes sense! A steady stream of toddler love to feed the addiction. And if you have 20 of them, by the time you really MUST stop with the kids already, your oldest will be having grandchildren. And you’ll never be without a toddler to cuddle! NEVER! (Insert maniacal laughter here).

You’ll notice I keep saying “toddler” instead of “baby” because now that I am a parent I think I have established that I am just not a “baby” person, or at least not a “newborn” or “infant” person. I understand that many of you out there are “baby” people. But if given a choice between a tiny 3 month-old or a deliciously chubby, roll-covered 15 month-old, I think my preference is clear.  Even better, give me an 18-24 month old, acquiring more and more language and motor skills each day.  Developing the ability to reason and become more independent. Yes!!! I’ll take it!

My son will be 3 years old in June. And I fear we are rapidly hitting the end of the toddler stage. Who knows what the preschool years will bring? Perhaps (and most likely) I will find new ways to stay addicted to my son. To love him more intensely than I ever knew was possible. But in many ways, I know we will and we must grow further apart. In one of my favorite books from graduate school Necessary Losses, the author and psychoanalyst Judith Viorst writes “Our daily existence requires both closeness and distance, the wholeness of self, the wholeness of intimacy.” Viorst argues that if healthy parental attachment is the foundation for healthy relationships, than perhaps even more so, gradual separation from our parents, allowing us to grow and form as individuals, builds upon that foundation to allow for healthy, loving attachments throughout our lives.  Viorst calls this process “the necessary losses which are the precondition of human love.”

Knowing and understanding that separation is healthy and nourishing for my son as he grows doesn’t necessarily make it suck any less for me. If I’m being honest, I do enjoy having a little more time to myself. I’m able to (sometimes) complete a task or have a phone conversation with my son in the house without being interrupted. I can (usually) leave to do an errand or take a break without him clinging to me and screaming. But while knowing that he’s okay when I’m not around is comforting, it’s also a punch to the gut. A pull on the heartstrings. I want him to mature, but I still want him to want and need me. I want him to grow, but I don’t want him to grow up!

Such is the ongoing struggle that will probably last the rest of my life (if I’m lucky). As a daughter, I know that I will ALWAYS want and need my own mother, and that helps. I think of my mother, supporting both my brother and I from a distance. Encouraging us to follow our dreams and build our own lives and be happy. And I know (now I really am only just beginning to know) how that must tug at her heartstrings. Every. Single. Day. What a remarkably strong woman! Motherhood makes us so tough and yet so vulnerable. As Viorst says, “For just as children, step by step, must separate from their parents, we will have to separate from them. And we will probably suffer.”

Yes, I will suffer the loss of my toddler as he grows into a preschooler. But there is some beauty in that suffering. So okay, maybe I won’t have 20 kids. Maybe that’s not the solution. Instead, maybe I’ll just keep working on these heart strings, making them strong enough to survive the pull.

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