Today I held my friend’s new little girl. I fed her and rocked her. She looked in my eyes and smiled, snuggled against me. She was all things good and lovely about babies. It’s been a very long time since I’ve held a baby that long and I loved every second.
That’s why I was wholly unprepared for the ache I felt as soon as I put her down. Memories of my baby Helen consumed me with an unexpected suddenness and intensity. How she struggled to eat, gagging and screaming…each feeding lasting at least an hour. Often more. How her eyes never, never looked into mine. How she turned from me every time I picked her up, her back arched, her tiny fingers curled into fists. How even my presence seemed to cause her pain. How can a mother not comfort her own child?
But it was time to take Helen’s class outside. Deep breaths. Keep moving.
She’s been doing amazingly well at her Preschool class and today was a good day. Still, she was beginning to get agitated on the playground. Without thinking, I tried to pick her up. She pushed on my chest, hard.
Don’t touch me, momma!
And the ache got stronger. Even now, after so much good, there are times I still can’t hold my own daughter. Deep breaths. Keep moving.
I pushed her on the swings, instead, and she was ok again.
Usually I tell myself all the good things about that moment. Oh, look. She recognized what she needed and told me. She didn’t melt down. She quickly recovered.
But today I wanted to scream.
I don’t care what she did. My own daughter just pushed me away. She’s been pushing me away her entire life. Somebody make her love me.
Of course, I know she loves me. Some days it’s just easier to feel. Today is not that day. And I’m too tired to sort the truth from the argument between my head and my heart. It’s time to go. We tie shoes and load backpacks and excited preschoolers find their mommas. Then it’s home. Matthew fills me in on the day. I wash out lunch boxes and unload backpacks.
Then finally. He’s off to conquer something Lego, she wants to watch cartoons. I can hear her through the door. I close it and let that ache from the darkest places of my heart go. And I cry until my head hurts and my eyes are swollen.
Are you ok, mom? You’ve been in there awhile.
I’m ok, buddy. I’ll be right out.
Thankfully, he goes back to his room. I splash water on my eyes and come out. Helen doesn’t even notice me. Again. I fix coffee and take deep breaths. I change into clothes that are soft and I pray.
She walks up to me. Does she know how much I love her? How much I always have? A cardboard tube, one end covered in paper, and a flashlight. They learned about the night at school. This is her project. She hands it to me to fix.
I want the stars, momma.
So do I, Helen. So do I.