22 Feb Love and Letting Go
This piece was originally written in February 2013, when my son Kamal was six months old. This month, our providers are focusing on the theme of love. We all experience love in different ways, and we all need it in exactly the same way. Here’s one perspective on it.
More transition has occurred in the past six months of Kamal’s life than have occurred in Adam’s or my past six years together combined. He was ejected from the cozy, dark studio he occupied alone for forty weeks into a boundless, bright space that levels at him constant and infinite distractions. He has gone from waking every two hours to sleeping through the night and now waking every hour on the hour, with all kinds of patterns in between. Fleeting sleep smiles still happen, but now there are also goofy grins and belly laughs and joy-filled shrieks. Bath times have evolved from Kamal’s screaming bloody murder, gazing piteously at us from wide eyes streaming tears, to his merely sitting stock-still in the tub looking suspicious, to resignedly reclining in the suds with a bemused expression.
|This is a post-bath bemused face.|
Right now, Kamal is transitioning from the cozy hammock he sleeps in next to our bed to a crib in another room. So far he’s only sleeping in the crib for naps here and there, but it’s a big step for all of us. Before he was born, I thought I’d look forward to this transition–for Adam and I to get our privacy back, for the baby to theoretically start sleeping more consistently and independently.
|Kamal in his hammock, dreaming of–what? Raising the roof? Calling a touchdown? Fixing his hair?|
Instead, I feel bereft. I am just beginning to learn how parenthood is a daily lesson in letting go. It is time to practice letting go of this time of waking the moment Kamal stirs, remembering in a rush of sweetness that this incredible person who has so lit my life is right next to me, lovelier and more magical than any dream I might have just been dreaming; time to start saying goodbye to smiling in the dark hearing the perfect melodic trio of Adam’s and Kamal’s and our dog Toby’s rhythmic breaths. Since slipping from my body six-and-a-half months ago, Kamal has been closer to me than anyone has ever been, but within that closeness is a constant progression of moving away.
Which is, of course, exactly how it should be. When my mother died, I was nineteen; I wasn’t ready to be motherless. Still, loving my mother meant being able to bless the passing that stopped the pain and ugliness of her cancer. When I was loving her the right way–which I now wish that I’d been better at, at the time–I was walking a line between being present to her needs and being ready to let her go.
|Kamal and my mother. Family resemblance, no?|
Parenting, so far, has been another perspective on that line. (And maybe that’s a weird parallel to draw–death and baby-raising–but I find comfort in it, in the circular, interconnected nature of family and human experience.) Kamal needs me pretty much every minute of every day–as I write this, I am listening for his cry letting me know he’s up from his nap and is hungry or wet or lonesome–but a huge part of that need is for me to let him learn to crawl; to introduce him to solid food even though I love the sweetness of nursing him; to accept that he’s big enough to face forward in his stroller and watch where he’s going instead of where he’s been, even if that means I can’t gaze at his beautiful face as we stroll. I’m realizing more and more that I didn’t, until now, truly realize what “bittersweet” means.
Mother love is terrible and wonderful because, if we are doing it right, we are at once assuring our children that they are more important to us than breath and teaching them how to live apart from us. If we are truly committed to their well-being, we hope and we mourn that they will not always lie peacefully beside us in our bed, each quiet breath sweet with milk, each marvelous crescent of eyelash casting still shadows for us to admire with wistful incredulity. We hope and we mourn that they will one day joyfully go away from us, to school, to homes of their own, to build families of their own. Nostalgia, these days, develops as rapidly as a Polaroid: I am wistful for last month, last week, this morning, all stages which in their way were the poignantly sweetest ever, all stages which will never come again. This is how I am getting through it: I breathe in. I breathe out. I inhale and exhale love like the smell of baking bread sometimes, and sometimes like dragon fire, and sometimes like a biting winter morning, and sometimes like a sticky, humid, New York City summer afternoon. One day, if I am among the luckiest and most blessed of people, I will wake up and my baby boy will be a man, making the warmth he glows with in my arms out in the wider embrace of the world. And I pledge that I will open my eyes as wide as I can to watch him for as long as I can, and I will draw the deepest breath, and I will, with forbearance gathered from generations of mothers before me, share him.
All the best,