When Jack was a baby, I rocked him every night before bed while he drank his milk. Ben read to us chapters from novels like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Count of Monte Cristo and did his best to ignore my crying. It never failed; I always got teary-eyed as Jack rested against my chest and I smelled his clean baby head.
I cried because I was so tired and desperate for him to be a little more independent. I wanted him to need me less so that I wouldn’t be chained to that rocking chair for an hour every night. At the same time, I cried because I felt guilty and also because with every new night, I watched as he grew, realizing that these nights of rocking and cuddling would one day end.
Motherhood is a study in contradiction. I love my children so much. I want only to breathe the air they breathe, to hold their sticky hands, to snuggle forever and to be together always, but only if they will go away, get out of my face, be quiet and stop touching me.
Today, Jack closed Ellie’s fingers in the bedroom door.
I was putting Gus down for a nap. He is teething and has an ear infection, so it had taken me a little while to calm him. I held him against my chest while he cried and I swayed from side to side in the dim room surrounded by white noise from the sound machine.
I smelled his sweet baby hair, felt his little heart beating and recognized the release in his arms when he finally relaxed. I was closing the door behind me after laying him down when I heard Ellie slamming a door and Jack
asking demanding that she stop.
She pulled to open it again and he pushed. A muffled knock as her knuckles became the door stop is all I heard when I felt her suck all of the air out of the room. She wailed in pain. I picked her up and held her close as she hugged my neck tight. I felt her tears and hot breath on my shirt as she filled her lungs readying to scream more.
When Jack realized what he had done, he started to cry too and buried his face in my leg, wrapping his arms around my waist.
Ellie pulled back and looked to me to make it better with tears streaming down her face. I examined her fingers and while they were red, they seemed to be working correctly. Swaying from side to side, I tried to calm her and pat Jack on the back at the same time.
Ben walked in and asked how to help. I gave a calming Ellie to him then picked Jack up and carried him to his bedroom.
I felt guilty because Jack was left to watch his sister while I put Gus down, a responsibility that is hard enough for an adult to handle. I knew that he had gotten overwhelmed and reacted. His intent was to keep the house quiet in order to help me. He had hurt his sister accidentally, but still it was something he felt bad about.
He never loosened his grip or pulled his head up from my neck as I sat down on his bed. By now, the shoulder of my shirt was wet from his tears. I rocked him back and forth and talked to him about what had just happened.
After a few minutes, he relaxed and I could feel his heartbeat on my chest. I couldn’t help but cry a little when I smelled his hair. Even though he is now 30 or 40 pounds heavier and that clean baby smell is gone, I was rocking him the same way I did when I wished for these days. Hoping he would need me less, but never wanting him to stop.