I was initially going to write about our recent trip to Disneyland, but nothing I was about to write seemed interesting, even to me. I'll skip that post, and just give you a couple of cute pictures:
|Pumpkin being a "whale watcher." The ears announce that it was her birthday, and garnered her much attention and joy.|
|Petunia loved the kitchen in Minnie Mouse's house. She considers meeting Mickey and Minnie highlights of the trip.|
Instead, I'll tell you about something I realized during that trip. The low point of the trip was when Petunia got sick. We don't know if we let her overheat, or if her stomach was upset by her unorthodox decision to eat leftover mac-and-cheese for breakfast, or what. But she was clearly not well Friday afternoon, so I took her back to the hotel to rest in some air-conditioning. I thought she was better and went back out that evening to meet up with Mr. Snarky and Pumpkin for dinner. I won't say that doing so was a mistake- I got a couple of great margaritas, Petunia got a stuffed baby Mickey Mouse that she adores and we did see the fireworks. But Petunia threw up between dinner and the fireworks- which is why I know that the adorable stuffed baby Mickey Mouse is 100% washable.
Anyway, when we got back to the hotel that afternoon, Petunia just wanted me to hold her. I was sad and grumpy. I felt like we'd let Petunia down by letting her get sick, and I was sad to be missing out on Pumpkin's afternoon- Pumpkin was LOVING Disneyland, and it was really fun to see that. Too bad, though, this situation was what I had, and no amount of feeling sorry for myself was going to fix that. I figured I should make the best of it, and give Petunia what she wanted. I was at that point reading Zero History, which I have in paper form, so I was not able to read until Petunia calmed down enough to let me put her down on the sofa.
Instead, I just looked at Petunia. I was struck by watching her as she snuggled into me. Her eyes half-closed and I could see all the stress and unhappiness just leave her body. She snuggled in, put one thumb in her mouth, ran the other hand under my shirt- as she likes to do- and smiled.
And I realized, I am her refuge. When she is stressed or hurt or worried, she wants me, because snuggling into me makes it better.
This is both a benefit and a responsibility of motherhood*, I think. I have written before about what was lost and what was gained when I became a mother. To me, this trumps them all. The feeling I get when I can comfort my child just by being there and holding her is literally indescribable. I won't try to describe it, but I will say it is amazing. It is, without a doubt, something I experience as a benefit of motherhood.
It is also a responsibility, though. My children's physical need for me will decrease as they get older- already, Pumpkin wants these comfort hugs less than she used to. But I don't think the effect goes away. I remember reading about a study that found that kids' stress levels go down when they talk to their mother on the phone. I know that talking to my mom on the phone always makes me feel better, and I'm 40 years old. This is an average effect, though- there are some people for whom their mother does nothing but add stress. I think we are hard-wired to want that initial caregiver bond, and to want that bond to be with someone who can be a refuge. What a horrible thing it must be when that person is instead another source of trouble.
I hope I will always be a refuge for my children, in whatever way they need. I will admit that I'm looking forward to the point at which Petunia no longer needs to stick her hand under my shirt for comfort, though!
*Or more precisely, of being the caregiver a child has bonded with as comfort person- it doesn't have to be the mother, and I think even when it is the mother, other caregivers can have a similar, if perhaps a little less powerful, effect. But I don't want to get into all of that in this post. Can we please just take it as a given that I am not trying to denigrate anyone else or their parenting experience, but am writing about a benefit and responsibility I feel from motherhood?