Tuesday, August 10
Ethan is going through a stage in which he both loves me and can't stand me. I'm just about there with him.
This time in his life is all about Asserting Independence, but I can't help but take it personally since I'm the one enduring the brunt of the assertion. On one side of the coin, he depends on me. He needs me. On the other side, he doesn't want to need me. Already.
Last week we had an argument in the parking lot of Lowe's (the Tool Store is one of his favorite destinations). It was about 112 degrees out with full humidity, the asphalt like a radiator beneath me. And Ethan refused to sit down and get buckled in his car seat. So I forced him. "This is not an option," I told him as I shoved his resisting arms through the straps, tears streaming down his purple-red face into his open, sobbing mouth. I, on the other hand, was consumed with frustration and...grief, actually. As we drove out of the parking lot, me silent and him hiccuping his way out of hysteria, he shakily said, "Me go Nana's house."
So I called my Mom and handed Ethan the phone. He related the whole thing to her: "Mommy buckle me (sob, hiccup) me go see Nana (gasp, cry) Big hugs kisses Nana's house (weep) Mommy, YOU MEAN! YOU MEAN, MOMMY! YOU GO TIME OUT NANA'S HOUSE! YOU NOT!" (Whenever his vocabulary fails him, he hurls one of two insults: Punky hoc, or You not. You not what? Who knows. The point, however, is taken.)
When we got to my Mom's, Ethan got his hugs and kisses from Nana, then he came over to me, hugged me, and said "Sorry Mommy." I apologized too. When I asked if he was ready to go home, he said, "Me stay here. Bye Mommy! See soon!" At age two and a half, he recognized that he needed some space, and so did I. He spent the afternoon with Nana.
There have been lots of other Incidents in the past couple of weeks, including ones that indicate the development of a very complex, mature set of fears. I'm pained by this realization. I hoped I could protect him from the upsetting parts of life for longer than this.
Two nights ago, we struggled to get him to settle in bed. He told Noah, "Daddy, me scared!" while he sat shivering in his crib. After the second time Noah put him down, I could hear his tiny voice crying, "Mommy, me love you!" As though he were reliving events of the day, our disagreements and happy moments, and the bittersweetness of Mommy and Ethan came back to him full force. I went in and picked him up, wrapped him in a blanket and rocked him for a few minutes. I wish I could say that was enough, that my embrace quieted his fears and allowed him to sleep peacefully, but it didn't. It took nearly an hour more before he finally settled himself, dropping off to sleep in spite of the feelings that plague him of late.
I need space, too. I crave time alone, quietness. But when I do have moments to myself, I miss him terribly.
Kahlil Gibran wrote, "[Your children] come through you but not from you, / And though they are with you yet they belong not to you." As a mother, that "coming through" leaves you changed in so many ways. One of them is that you forever feel slightly alien, as though a part of you is living independently of you, rebelling against you, out in the world away from you.
Though I might be the bow sending the living arrow that is Ethan off in his own direction, the bow without the arrow is vulnerable. The bow is complete in itself, but its purpose is inextricably bound to the arrow. The arrow performs its own purpose, but relies on the bow to direct it even as it lets go.
The tension mounts as Ethan prepares for a life apart from me, a process that began at birth. When the time comes for him to leave completely, when the tension breaks and he goes sailing toward his own purpose separate from mine, I know I will feel fulfillment and relief. But like a bow without her arrow, I will also feel depleted.
For now, I will cherish the small moments of reprieve. The few minutes of rocking together in the darkness. The quiet sighs between the ever-increasing moments that pull us taught. The exhausting joy of a bow, still cradling her arrow.