It's always a fight to keep his hat on. Not a little fight either - I mean the kind of fight that you can hear three countries over and three centuries into the future, with shrill shrieks and windmill arms. He's barely one - he doesn't understand frostbite or windchill or hypothermia, but he knows for sure, for sure, that he doesn't like to be bundled up under all of these extra layers.
He was born in the wrong country, I guess, because on this particular day it was -47 with the windchill and -47 is just entirely too cold to ditch your hat. I calmed him down and explained this to him. I pulled the hat snug over his ears. I smiled at him and said, "Good job, buddy. Just leave that on, ok?" He doesn't know English yet though, so maybe he thought I was saying, "Just go ahead and throw that stupid hat on the ground."
So he smiled and threw the stupid hat on the ground. Round two.
We were on our way out the door and we were already fifteen minutes late, which is kind of our new fifteen minutes early. My husband and I had a supper date and our son was going to hang out with his grandparents for a couple of hours. I was looking forward to it, but there's always a tiny period of time right before I go out where I stand at the door and wonder if leaving the house is ever worth this much effort. (It almost always is.)
We knocked on their door at 4:15, and it swung inward immediately, like they'd just been standing there waiting for us. There was the standard diaper bag hand-off and the thank-yous and have-a-good-times, and then I crouched down and called to my boy, who'd disappeared quickly into the living room as soon as we'd arrived.
"Bye, baby, be good!" I held out my arms for a hug, knowing that the Great Toque Battle would already be forgiven and forgotten. But he was distracted by the box in the living room with the board books in it, and we were already running late and my husband laid a hand on my shoulder.
"It's good," he said. "He's happy and he's playing and we should just sneak out, probably."
So we did.
"You're right," I said as we drove away. "It's good. It's good that he doesn't scream bloody murder whenever I leave him with someone else. It's good that he loves them too. It's good that he's ok. I wouldn't want him to have a hard time seeing me go."
I believe this, but I still feel like I need to convince myself of it sometimes.
It reminded me of this story that my mom tells me often, about how when I was four I had told her that I wanted to go to school, and she wanted to know if I would like her for a teacher and I'd told her that, no, I wanted a real teacher. And that she should stay home. And that I would go by myself.
I bit my lip as I watched my in-laws' house vanish around the corner with my little boy playing happily inside. Sorry, Mom.
I want to raise a happy, healthy, well-adjusted kid. I want him to be friendly and loving. I want him to be fearless and bold. I want him to make friends with other kids and be respectful to other adults. I want him to explore and experience and grow. I want him to be independent.
I want him to want me, though, too. You know, because I want him so much.
There was a time where we were literally, physically, inseparable. As soon as I found out he was there, the first moment I laid my hand on my belly and said, "Hello," he became a part of me just as much emotionally and mentally as physically. I felt him kick, I watched him grow beneath my skin. I saw him on the screen at the doctor's office and cried when I realized that I had two healthy hearts beating inside of my body.
He was born, and we wore matching hospital bracelets, and mine said Mother on it. When they handed him to me, I didn't want to ever put him down. I'd been holding him for nine months; how could I just hand him off or set him in a bassinet? It was strange seeing him in anyone else's arms.
I remember that first night, standing beside his little bed, holding his tiny hand. I hoped he understood that he wasn't alone, that I was just a couple feet away. I didn't want him to be sad or afraid.
I couldn't hold him all night, though, so that was the very first time in his whole life that I learned to let go just a little. Just a very tiny little bit.
We went home, and he slept beside my bed for the first while, and then it was time for him to sleep in his own room, in his crib. I held his hand that night too and hoped he understood that I was right across the hall, and that I'd be there in two seconds if he needed me. I didn't want him to ever question that.
I couldn't stand there all night, though, so I let go just a very tiny little bit more.
That's a big part of what this first year has been for me. I'm learning, so slowly, to open my hands, letting go tiny little bit by tiny little bit, because I know I can't hold him forever. But I still want him to want me.
I know what happens next: he grows up.
He spends time at other peoples' houses, he goes to school, he goes to camp, he goes to college, he goes wherever he needs or wants to.
I will finally let go completely. I will stay here and he will go out into the world and maybe have his own family or travel or work hard at something he's passionate about. But I still want him to want me then.
As we pulled up to the restaurant, I blinked hard. I was damming my words, but there were a lot of them building up behind my lips and eyes. I thought of my mom's story and I thought to myself that maybe him being okay without me was not the same thing as him not wanting me anymore. I thought about our daily hat fights, and his crib in his own room, and our matching hospital bracelets, and his little foot jammed up under my ribs, and the heart on the screen, and the little pink plus sign and I smiled.
I should call my mom this week and tell her I still want her.
Written by Elena Krause.