There is one night of my life that I’ll always remember. There was nothing special about this night. It wasn’t a celebrity sighting, or my most embarrassing moment, not a special trip or my first slumber party.
That night, I went to bed in my normal bed in a usual way, and for some reason my mom had some extra time that night to sit by my bed as I worked to fall asleep, and she stroked my hair for a long time.
It was probably the most relaxing sensory experience of my life — my entire life, even up to this point. It made so many worries wash away through the simple act of human touch.
For some reason, although I must point out here that I have extremely loving and devoted parents, I never knew how to ask for physical affection when I needed/ wanted it. When I got hurt I have great memories of trying to suck in my cries and hold my breath until the pain passed. This gave me pride and assured me I was strong. When I desperately needed a hug, I didn’t know how to ask for it. When I desperately loved having my hair stroked as I fell asleep, I didn’t know how to express how much I loved it, what it meant to me, how it changed my night and made me feel loved.
I hate alone-ness more than almost anything. But often it would not occur to me that I had a power to drive it away from me byjust asking.
Fast forward to now, and I look at my little boys and ask myself what they might love and want and need, but not know how to ask me to give them. So I try to actively listen, not just to what they’re saying but how they’re responding. When they do ask, I try to take them seriously. I try hard not to say no to requests like “play with me,” “sing to me,” “read to me,” or “sit by me.” Sometimes I do, and I consider that a loss. Sometimes the request is blended with an attempt to stall the inevitable / undesirable (bedtime, diaper change, etc.). But I still try to meet them halfway whenever I can.
This is a guessing game, I’m fully aware. I mess up, and I know I do, because already my 3-year-old uses excuses like “I’m too tired” when I ask him to do something he’d like to avoid (I know he’s copying me). I’m also finite, and I shouldn’t pretend to myself or my kids that I have infinite internal resources, because that’s dishonest.
As much as possible, I commit myself to being present in the small moments for them. I can’t be there all day and capture every milestone they tumble through, inevitably. So it’s in the small, daily, out-reaching that I am committed, even and especially when, if they’re anything like me, they know nothing of how to ask for what they want from me.