By Laura Simon
When I got married, the pastor who officiated asked us to take a quiz to determine our love languages. It turns out that I am very much a “words of affirmation” and “gifts” person. Chalk that up to family history, my life as an only child, or my status as an introvert, but physical touch is pretty much at the bottom of my list.
It’s not that I don’t like it…I just don’t like excessive amounts of it.
So it makes total sense that all three of my children, like my husband, crave physical touch. Lots of it. And there’s only so much time to wrestle with dad.
My kids show their need for touch in different ways. It was relatively easy when they were babies and wearing them was the quickest path to sanity. Physical touch is natural with a baby. It’s what you do. It’s a phase that will pass.
Now that my boys are in elementary school, though, they show their needs in slightly more, er, frustrating ways. They hide under my long sweaters, stretching them out. They paw at my stomach, which only draws my attention to the fact that it isn’t as flat as I’d like. They jump on me when I’m lying down, usually hitting exactly the spot where I suspect a vertebrae is slipping out of place. They hang on my legs when I want to walk, and roll under me when I’m doing a plank. I’d like to say I handle this with grace, but I don’t. It drives me absolutely crazy. I have definitely said, on more than one occasion, “Please stop touching me. Please. Just for a minute.”
I’m not saying my feelings aren’t justified…because that’s not fair. I’m wired that way. But it doesn’t change the fact that I’m the one who has to get over those feelings, because I’m the mom, and it’s my job to do everything in my power to meet my kids where they are.
For the last week, my newly-minted three-year-old daughter has been exceedingly clingy. She wants to be carried. She wants to sit on my lap at dinner. And most significantly, she wants to be with me at night. I’m a girl who likes my sleep, and she’s a girl who just had the side taken off her crib. She wanders into my room at least once a night, allegedly to use the bathroom, but really to worm her way into my bed.
Since my husband has declared her to be the worst bed-sharer ever (totally true…I swear she tries to pick my nose with her big toe), I’ve been taking her to the couch in our den and sleeping with her sprawled out on my chest. It’s not much different from the baby months, where the only way to get the tiniest bit of rest was to wrap her securely in the Moby and relax in a recliner. Except that now her legs drape over the side of the couch, and one arm rests on my shoulder, twisting my earring back and forth.
The years have gone so quickly, so I’ve just been giving in and letting her sleep with me. Until the other night, when she started patting my face. “How sweet,” I thought, until her fingers found my eye and tried to pry it open. “Wake UP, MOMMY!” she whispered in my ear.
Why can’t toddlers understand the concept of 5 AM?
I’m all about good sleep habits and sleeping in beds, but she’s my last baby, and I know she feels loved when she’s held. Heck, I’m still using the Ergo with her…at three years old and 31 pounds. I think my back is about finished, but she shows no sign of being done. There’s no denying that she feels loved when she’s with me, and she feels loved when she’s held.
And there it is. If someone has to sacrifice for the relationship, right now it has to be me. I have to be willing to love the things my kids love. To love the way they love.
It’s because I love my kids that I can now name major characters and outline the plot synopsis for all seven (soon to be eight) Star Wars movies. I can discuss in detail the failings of the newer movies, and also defend my stance that, while movies 1-3 definitely come up lacking when it comes to quality acting, I definitely appreciate the insight into how Darth Vader became the villain he did.
Two years ago, I hadn’t seen a single Star Wars film in its entirety. I tried to watch one, but I fell asleep. I secretly made fun of people who liked Star Wars.
Last Halloween, I dressed my own children as Luke, Han, and Yoda. And I thought they were adorable.
That’s the love of a parent. I’m not a sell-out. No, these are my children. To love them is my highest privilege, and that means learning and doing things that they like to do. It’s why I can name all the Paw Patrol pups and make a mean chicken nugget.
My parents spent their weekends at swim meets; my dad walked the side of the pool as a trained official, even though he could barely swim. My neighbor spends her weekends at skate parks. I’ve never seen her go out for a skateboard ride, but her kids adore it. My friend, who despises technology, is on snap chat. That’s what it looks like to prioritize our relationship with our kids. Because if we don’t take an interest in who our children are, they’ll find someone else who will.
Tonight, I sat on my front porch and gave my middle son a backrub. I had work to do and I was feeling rushed, but he’d taken a spill on his scooter and he just needed my touch. As we sat there and watched his siblings race around the cul-de-sac, I could feel his intensity relaxing. He needs this from me, even if it doesn’t come naturally.
It started to rain right after I put the kids in bed, which probably means at least a few hours on the couch with a little girl who’s afraid of rain. I’ll give in, as long as she doesn’t try to pry my eyelids open again. We’ll get sleep on track at some point, but when she’s scared, I’m choosing to hold her. It’s my job. I’m the parent.
It’s my greatest privilege.