“Up!” he cries, eyes fixed upon my face and hands full of toys. “Where do you want to go?” I ask as if his request is transactional – as if I am a tool to achieve his desires. He and I both know that it is more than that, but in the chaos of dinner-prep, I can’t help but turn everything into actions with purpose.
“Up,” he repeats, each time with more tears and all the urgency he can muster. I bend down, careful with my back. I have the back of a working mother whose third child prefers to be held for much of the evening routine (an impossible request while making dinner as cooking inevitably requires two hands and sharp knives). Then there are the two older children like to play in such a way that can quickly knock the wind out of me (when did they get so big?).
Lifting him up, I rest his two-year-old frame on my left hip, and I wonder if my hips have gotten weaker or if they are just getting to the place of protest. After 8 years of mothering, they would like a rest from toting little ones around. They don’t hold the way they used to. Now, my back has to accommodate with an uncomfortable lean that I always regret later in the day.
Just as I lift him up and my hips, back, arms, and tasks protest, his eyes lock with mine. Only inches away from my eyes, his face lights up with an infectious smile. He moves expertly so that his shoulders square with mine and he gains my full attention. He has done this for the past 6 months, and I am always amazed at its brilliance. He manages to look at me in such a way that I forget everything else. I mirror his smile, just the way he once learned to smile by watching me.
“Who is the cutest?” I ask. His smile grows ever bigger as he replies, “Walt” and then quickly “Mommy.”
Ever since he learned to say his name, he usually follows it with his name for me – “Mommy.” Even while the older two have matured to “Mom” (usually uttered like a shout or a demand), Walt still draws out “Mommy” slowly and his eyes twinkle.
I know these are temporary times. His journey to independence began the day he was born and it continues to this day. While parents of children who are grown might advise me to always pick him up and carry him for however long he wants, we all know that life is not that easy. I cannot bottle up his youth as if I can soak it up enough for a lifetime. Besides, my hips and my back won’t let me. And dinner does actually have to get on the table at some point (often the source of why he wants to be picked up in the first place).
Lately, I practice my new line while I mince onions and gather ingredients from the pantry. “You can be with me, but I can’t pick you up right now.” After a few times of repeating it, he will walk away for a moment with shoulders slumped to find a toy. The sight of it ignites some mother-guilt to flare up, but it quickly dissipates. Even as I type this, I know I will later read this and regret every time I have uttered it.
But he is growing up, and that is not bad news. It’s not news at all. This is the task before us – to relearn how to be connected even when it is not at the (aching) hip as much anymore.
The day we came home from the hospital, I managed to steal a few moments in solitude and I wrote out gratitude on that Thanksgiving day. The list is scribbled out on a half-filled page. For bodies fragile and yet strong. For children who know that they are loved. For parents who are capable of reflecting love and receiving it because they know what it means to be loved. For the way gratitude can comfort weakness.
I speak all the words again this morning and I whisper quietly in the dark, “Amen.”
This year as we celebrate Thanksgiving and the second birthday of our youngest, may I not begrudge nor idolize my hands that are full or my list that is long. Instead, may I be tender enough with my own self that I hear my own cries, pause the chaos to pick my self up, and joyfully look my self in the face enough to hear my name again. In so doing, may I find that it is the Divine Mother herself letting me know that life is more beautiful than I could ever grasp while living it.
In the arms of the One who is still birthing me even today, I pause and give thanks. I remember again that gratitude can comfort weakness. I am seen and I am free.