He wasn’t quite three when we told him we were expecting
twins. I still carried him on my hip
into the daycare he attended twice a week; I hung his coat and put on
his shoes and treated him like the baby he wasn’t until I found out the twins
were coming. Then I changed course, and
quickly, encouraging him to do for himself what I’d done for so long both to foster
independence and because I could no longer do them.
At almost three he shed his soft toddler curves and grew
into the gangly, boyish body of a preschooler.
My little boy who’d been so snugly and sweet was suddenly all corners
and sharp edges. When I sat on the couch
the twins’ two bodies wrapped tight in mine jutted out in front of me like a
dangerously exposed beach ball, ready to pop at the slightest pressure. After one too many leaping, lunging hugs from
my son with knees and elbows knocking, I learned to lean forward setting my arms
like a protective scaffolding that surrounded my womb.
I had to stop lifting him for the last two-thirds of the
pregnancy and my lap slowly disappeared, vanishing inch by inch with each
passing month. He struggled to find a
way to be near me and eventually took to perching on my shoulders while I read,
mussing my hair and wrapping his little arms and legs around my neck in his desperate need to find a some part of me to call his own.
After the birth my stomach shrank back, but my arms and
hands were perpetually full and my lap too as I sat nursing two for hours and
days and weeks on end. Whether the
hormones were to blame or the sheer difficulty of managing two flailing bodies,
I simply couldn’t bear to have my son sitting on the couch with me as I nursed.
I couldn’t stand the bouncing, jouncing
presence, couldn’t handle one more person touching me. The further away he sat, the better, and I
was relieved when he took to watching me from a chair on the other side of the
room, keeping up a constant stream of chatter – anything to stay connected.
All of that is past now, my arms are more often empty as the
twins are toddling along, but it occurred to me the other day that the distance
between my son and I remains.
I was standing in the kitchen, feeling lonely and blue,
needing a hug, when I saw my son, so tall and thin, standing on a chair at the dining
room table. My own need for a hug
awakened me to the fact that I had, at some point along the way, stopped
Oh, I hugged him at bedtime and coming and going on the days
I left the house, but I’d stopped randomly grabbing him and wrapping him in an
embrace, stopped seeing him as a potential source of affection, stopped feeding
his body with the food of physical touch.
I crossed the room immediately and asked for a hug and he
gave it, wrapping those spindly arms around me and holding tight. I told him I needed a hug and in so doing I
affirmed his need too, that had gone unmet for so long.
Since then I’ve noticed a change in him. He snuggles up beside me again while I’m
reading, twining his little arm through mine, and he dares to fight the twins, those
territorial little beasts, for lap-space which causes no end of fighting.
I hug him more now, every time I think of it, and I’m
noticing he lets me hug him when he gets hurts whereas, for a long time, he
would just run off to his room.
It’s such a terrible thing for a mother to say, isn’t it, “I
stopped hugging my son.” I think of the
little ways we starve ourselves and each other and the many countless ways we
can be fed – physically, spiritually, emotionally – and I pray for the grace of
awareness that I might not withhold that which I have to give.
I’m grateful for the way my own need
awakened me to his.
I’m grateful, too, for this season of Lent that so deftly peels back the layers of comfort and compulsion that often hide our deepest needs. For needs are a doorway, always, an invitation into deeper relationship with ourselves and others and God.
May our longing, uncovered, awaken in us desire and may we have the grace to bend low, entering through desire’s arched doorway into the deepest parts of our souls where the spirit of God dwells.