The last few weeks have been tough for our family. Emotionally exhausting. Maya made it clear it wasn’t okay for me to leave her with a babysitter, or her grandparents, or even her Daddy. I tried working from my home office, but every few minutes she would want to nurse or talk with me. Trying to get work done at a local coffee shop was out, too. When I started toward the door, she would tremble with tears in her eyes and plead, “Mommy, no! Don’t go now!”
Parenting is a series of choices. Josh and I follow our gut. If we discover later the research backs us up, that’s nifty. But, no matter what the experts suggest, we stay true to our instincts.
When Maya told me not to go, I heard choruses of outsiders in my mind telling me, “she’s testing you, trying to manipulate you; you are the adult and mustn’t let her push you around; she needs your consistency (I said I was going, so I should go for her sake),” and on and on.
Those were loud and pushy and misguided outsiders’ voices.
In my gut, in my heart, my soul, my core, I knew that Maya was testing me. She was saying, “I need you to stay. When I need you and I tell you so, will you hear?”
I passed the test.
I bulldozed through the swamp of voices predicting an overindulged and “spoiled” child and landed safely in the nest of comforting my daughter.
The need for Mommy to stay hasn’t wavered over the past several weeks; so, as I mentioned, it’s been an exhausting time for our family. Josh has taken up a great deal of slack in housekeeping (tasks for which he already pulls at least half the weight), has thickened his skin to the “no Daddy!” times, and has reassured me that he agrees our choices are right for our family. Respecting Maya’s needs is how we care for her, even if it means in the short-term all my emotional resources are being spent on her security.
When would it end? I thought many times. Surely, allowing her to nurse whenever she wants to (needs its own essay) and not leaving her with a sitter – not leaving her, period – surely all of this responsiveness would soon increase her sense of security?
Why, then, did it seem that Maya clung even more desperately to me – saying no to a trip to the market with Daddy (always a favorite jaunt for the pair), even at times not wanting Mommy to leave the room?
The responsibility of attending to her needs has been heavy, but small moments convince me the choices we are making are right for us. When she was falling asleep a few nights ago, Maya rested her hand on my cheek and said, “Stay, Mommy.”
“Yes, yes, I will stay,” I whispered, pressing my mouth against her sweet sweaty head.
I wondered if this was just the typical two-year-old stuff or something bigger. Maya answered my questions this weekend.
“Mommy’s not going to die,” she stated with a question’s tone while in her rocking chair.
“What?” I said, not quite sure I heard her, could she have said…?
“You’re not going to die,” she said, staring intensely at me with the widest big eyes a little girl could ever have.
“No! No, hunny, I am not going to die!”
“Daddy’s not going to die,” she said, almost without inflection.
“No! No, he’s not. He won’t.”
Throughout the weekend she continued on this theme, asking if we were going to die. Talking about her animal parents and friends dying, requesting the stories we tell be about parents or friends dying.
These thoughts are too big for a child. She is too tender for such dark fears!
I remembered, then, a conversation we had when she pointed to a picture of my Aunt Mary. I told Maya then that Mary had been my cousin Ali’s mother, but she had died much too young. The conversation was brief, but, as I look back the deep fears she’s had are making more sense.
In addition to talking about my beloved Aunt Mary, my grandmother has been very seriously ill and we have talked to Maya about the possibility of Gramma Jean dying.
The topic is one I assumed a two-year-old would only take in what she could handle. I chose to be blunt about the truth (everyone/everything dies, death is permanent, etc.) because I was sure she simply wouldn’t get in to the heavy stuff.
“Mommy’s not going to die,” she asked as she sat in her car seat waiting to be brought upstairs after a trip to the market.
“Mommy’s not going to die,” she stated firmly as we lay in bed going to sleep last night.
“No, hunny, I promise I will never leave you.” I said. “If I ever leave you it will only be for a short, short time and I will always, always come back home safe. I will not die.”
I justify the lie by adding in my mind, “in the next ten minutes…” knowing it would be cruel to ask this sweet babe to understand that her Mother could and would one day die.
When she begged me not to leave her with a sitter, what if I had discarded her need for me? What if I had decided the other things were more important than her cries for me to stay? Can you imagine how frightened she might have been? Can you imagine trying to get a handle on death all alone as a 28-month-old child?
When we continue caring for Maya in this way – that her cries for us are real needs, not attempts at control or manipulation – Josh and I both know we are doing the right thing for her. What a world around us, though, when the strongest message to the general public is that people like us are being “controlled” by our child! When Maya looks up at me, caressing my cheek and says, with satisfaction just seconds before drifting off to a milky sleep, “You’re not going to go,” I know we are doing what is best for her.
“That’s right, sweet love,” I say to her, long after she breathes the heavy slow rhythm of sleep, “I’m staying. Mommy is staying with you. Daddy is staying with you. We will never leave you.”
And we never will.