The Ever-Widening Hug

I fell into attachment parenting like I've fallen into many of the things that would become my passions: by accident. 

I have no recollection of seeing anyone practicing it, save perhaps some photos in National Geographic magazines over the years.

But, having embarked on the grand adventure of BECOMING PARENTS TOGETHER with my Beloved, I proceeded to read everything I could find about parenting, and somehow, Jean Leidloff's book, The Continuum Concept found it's way to my hands. And then, Our Babies Ourselves, and, more mainstream, Dr. Sears The Baby Book. In each of these books, the authors talked about how babies are pretty much hardwired to be held and when they are, they are basically content. (I now know, from talking to many of my attachment parenting friends, that this may or may not actually be true.)

I bought myself a ring sling, and was delighted with the simplicity of the design. I also bought myself a stroller and wondered if I would ever use it.  (answer: hardly ever)

When my firstborn was born, my husband worked from home, so we were both around to hold and carry and nurse (well, I did that part) that baby as much as he wanted to be held and carried and nursed, which we found out, was most of the time. 

We learned how to put on a sling and adjust it very quickly and also how to take it off and transfer our wee babe to his moses basket without disturbing him. We were baby wearers!

He also slept in our bed. Our first anniversary gift to each other was a kingsize bed. (Best parenting investment ever.)

These practices were sometimes questioned by our well-meaning family and friends. But, we found our own way through the first days, weeks and months of new parenthood, and those attachment parenting folks seemed to be right. Our baby was basically happy with being held close and sleeping with us. He rarely cried, and when he did it was kind of quiet--just letting us know he needed something. 

His 'womb with a view' as I had heard slings called, and loved, was his safe place to explore the world. He came with me to my part time teaching assistant job. The kids loved him and adopted him as part of the class immediately. 

And of course, he rather rapidly grew out of it. My embrace had to expand to accommodate the crawling and then toddling versions of baby. I remember the first time he sat in a grocery cart at the store. He was fairly old, probably near a year, long past being able to sit up. I was in the produce section and I stepped a few feet away from my cart to grab a vegetable. And then my heart went Ka THUNK. My baby was THAT FAR away from me. It felt very weird. I remember stepping back, closer to the cart.

Of course, between that day at the grocery store and now, he has ventured beyond my arms reach--it would be pretty creepy if he had not. And each little milestone was a celebration, and an opportunity to practice letting go: first time he crawled, first steps from me to Dad, first time he went up stairs, first time he climbed on a play structure at a park, first time he slept by himself, first time he stayed over with someone else, first time he went on a plane, first time he drove away from me.

Fast Forward 17 years. Today, I received a letter inviting me to send pre-fab care packages to him as he experiences his freshman year at college. He will be going to college 3,068 miles from home.

I began when he was little, thinking about parenting as 'the ever-widening hug'. He is 6'2" now, and when I hug him, my head is under his chin. (oh yeah! first time he was taller than me!). He tolerates my hugs, but also things I'm sappy and silly when I squeeze for just a little bit more. It is tempting to not let my hug grow ever wider. Part of my mama heart wants to keep him here with me--let's face it, part of my mama heart wanted him to stay little and Pooh-bear like--to find that magic potion that makes children stay tiny-cute (although he was never very tiny, but always cute). 

But, I cannot. I definitely have never seen a mama with her 6'2" baby strapped to her body. And, I now know that all of that attachment didn't stunt his independence and curiosity. I must, again, widen my hug to accommodate a new THAT FAR. 

And you can bet it will not be accompanied by any pre-fab care packages. Upon touring the campuses last fall he said, "You're totally going to be THAT MOM that sends me stuff ALL THE TIME, aren't you?" Yes. Yes, my dear boy. I will, so you can still feel my hug from very, very far away.

 

 

gratitude for the day

Today marks 14 years since I became the mother of my second child, my first daughter. It is the first birthday we have spent apart. She is many hundreds of miles away at a ballet intensive. I will not see her tomorrow, or the next day, not until she is almost 14 years and one month old. It's hard to imagine that this might feel 'normal' one day. It reminds me of the quote by Elizabeth Stone, 

“Making the decision to have a child - it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ”

There is a time, in the beginnings of our children's lives, that we count their age by days, and then weeks, months, and finally, years. In those precious first hours we cherish each breath and noise and sigh, we are addicted to our babies. We can stare at them for hours.

 Only hours old here.

Only hours old here.

Today, I did not have my tall, elegant ballerina of a 14-year-old here with me. But, I woke up in a mood to relish every moment, and also was reminded by a dear friend, and self-care accountability partner, to stay in the gratitude. Another friend was coming into town, and my never-ready-for-guests home was messy and dirty. I recalled something one of my post-partum doulas recommended after my third child was born. Instead of a 'to-do' list, make a list of the things you have done. When you are in early newborn days, that looks a lot like "Woke up, nursed the baby, changed a diaper, stared at baby, snuck in a shower while baby slept, changed diaper, nursed baby, ate a piece of toast, fell asleep nursing baby, put a cabbage leaf on my breast, walked to the mailbox with baby in sling, changed diaper...." It's slow, it seems like those days of diapers and baby feeding will stretch out forever. 

 Man-child when he was a new 'big' brother.

Man-child when he was a new 'big' brother.

These days, time zips by, and especially these summer days, and I barely notice my feet hitting the ground running before it's story time at bedtime for the youngest and I fall into bed and sleep ALL NIGHT LONG most nights, which, after having many babies, still seems sort of amazing. I don't necessarily stop to enjoy the moments, or stare at my offspring, because they're older now, and all but the 5-year-old think that's creepy. Yet, today, I remembered that lovely woman's suggestion. I took stock of what I'd done throughout the day, with deep gratitude.

The minutiae of my life is not important here. But, in the simple act of making my 'done' list, I realized how very much I have to be grateful for: clean water, clean clothes, a man-child spending his first day at college, healthy children who play well together despite their difference in age, my college roomie and her spouse visiting, ice-cream, music and pirates, goodnight kisses. Even in the mess and noise of it all, it's worth paying attention to the wonder of it all, too. Sometimes it's nice to return to counting my age as a mama in days, or even hours.