He woke himself up with a yelp from the flailing of his out of control two month old limbs. I fought my c-section pain and was up from the chair in a stumbling rush, hurrying to see what was wrong. Through his pumping arms and fists, I saw the damage his sharp little fingernail had done to his face. There was a line of blood that started between his eyes, trailing down under his eye and running over his cherub chubby cheek, finding its resting place in my heart.
Then he cried and cried as I bounced my normally calm and peaceful little boy, a screeching kind of sound coming from him. The sound of a surprise hit of pain.
Oh I'm sorry Oh I'm sorry Oh I'm sorry, I said.
I thought I'd failed him, that's what I thought. Not cutting his fingernails right or some such thing.
And now I look back at myself in that memory, and I'm a bit confused at my own capacity to feel every little thing with him. It was only the beginning and yet I wore myself out with his every movement and experience.
I've only been a mother for about five years, but here I am already a bit calloused, a bit shut down to the constant intense emotion of this gig. Because there is no end to the things that will hurt my children, things that will go missed by me or things caused by me or them, things that will leave me wondering how I could have failed. How did I miss it? He's mine. I'm his mother, how could I?
Now, he turns to me and he shouts NO I WILL NOT as we fight, and his tears are like his blood hitting my heart and yet I'm so mad, so mad, so I just shut it off and try to think clearly about what to do next and how to keep him from thinking he can act this way. Then we fight some more and he kicks and screams until he's just too tired. He gives me a half-hearted apology while I hold him, wiping his tears and going numb because I don't have a clue if I'm doing even one thing right.
I can't and won't always be able to pick him up and hold him. After it, whatever it may be. I suppose this move toward feeling less is a natural step back, so he can grow up. I suppose going numb sometimes is serving its purpose. But here's the thing: I'm afraid of it.
I'm afraid of turning into one of those mothers that shuts down completely, waving her hand in the air like a white flag, rolling her eyes and saying oh I guess they'll be fine, what else can I do? Isn't all this cleaning and laundry and cooking and driving enough? There's just too much to worry about. So she stops feeling. So rarely does she feel that it surprises her family if she finally loses it, crying and rushing off to her room.
Yes, I know her. I know many of her.
I know it. I see it. Because I do it, too. I feel so much, so much...that sometimes I have to just stop. Just go numb for a while.
And it's exhausting. This roller coaster of connection and then swinging to disconnection. This push and this pull.
More than anything, I want to keep feeling for them, keep trying to understand. I want all of their wounds to hit my heart.
But of course, I could not survive that.
Oh yes, there you have it. Yet another of the thousand ways a mother looks to find balance and can't.
The balance of sharing her heart completely or just enough or not at all.
Finding just the right balance is as impossible as sprouting wings and learning to fly.
How did I miss it? He's mine. I'm his mother, how could I not know? That's what I'll say, whatever the balance, that's the thing.
And like that small cut to his head I will wonder, did I do it wrong?
Even if it's not my fault, I'll blame me. Because even now, I watch him sleep and see the way he clenches his jaw, grinding his teeth and I wonder...is he anxious because I'm anxious? And I wonder...is my impatience making him feel like he can never ever do even one thing right?
Paralyzing. Terrifying. Numbing thoughts. Many that have no grounds but creep in.
Those thoughts are there because even though I'm not entirely responsible for his actions today or in ten years or twenty, I still feel so entirely responsible.
I so badly need the thoughts that bring peace, some hope...
This hope is in a balance that I can actually count on, one that I cannot see and would never predict. It is of all things working together, my failings and my strengths, his failings and his strengths, until there is a completion that I never thought possible. A beautiful mess. A person growing up who learns to feel deeply for others even when his mother could not always do the same.
Two small people, growing up to be exactly who they were intended to be, no matter what my failings.
That is my hope, and I know it's all wrapped up in grace.
The first post with the title Ours is about the feelings of mixed grief and joy a mother has when first bringing her baby home. You can find that here.