Friday, November 13, 2015

Separation Anxiety

Last year I bought alarm clocks for my children. The idea was that the clocks, set with a chirping bird alarm tone, would rouse the kids on school days, allowing me to evade the sleepy protests of, “I don’t want to get up yet. It’s too early.” That plan worked, most days. The other days I was calling upstairs to urge children from the covers, or going there myself to nudge them out of cozy beds and into school day routines.

Once upon a time... they all fit on my lap.
This fall, after a summer of lazy mornings, we left the alarm clocks idle and returned to the practice of me waking the kids, opening window shades to the weak morning light, bending down for quick kisses on slumber-drowsy heads. In the frenzied early morning rush, I breathe in the sleepy aura of my children before they fully emerge from their blanketed enclaves and feel my heart twinge a bit at how big they are becoming, how far away from the pillows their feet seem to be now.

How long will they let me do this, I wonder? Tuck them in at nighttime and wake them in the morning with a kiss? How many more years? How many more days?

My son, the tallest of my children, has grown higher than my shoulder. The littlest one is now up to my armpit. Two of my children will turn 9 years old in a couple of months, reaching that half-way point to 18, when they will likely fly the coop of home. I am becoming acutely aware that this magical time of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy and easy innocent beliefs will not, actually, last forever. I find myself lately clinging for dear life to the fading smallness of my children.

They are at a point now where they are apart from me more than they’re with me. They are at school or with friends, exploring on their own or together, or simply holed up in their rooms with a good book and a hearty dose of imagination. They do not need to know, as they once did, where I am at all times. More and more, the stories they tell are accounts I am hearing for the first time, not things we have experienced together. I am thankful they still share these what-happened-today tales with me.

I remember, not so long ago, feeling a vague sense of relief as the children reached early milestones. When they first slept through the night. When they were potty trained and we, finally, no longer needed to order diapers by the case. When they figured out how to make their own toast in the morning or slap peanut butter and jelly between two slices of bread and call it lunch. When they could ski on their own, without me holding them, and ride their bikes without training wheels. When they learned to communicate in words spoken and write notes in perfectly imperfect child’s handwriting and read words from a page all on their own.

Those were all liberating – for me and for the children. That is, after all, a main objective of parenting: to encourage independence in thought and action and to help children, gradually, achieve their ownness – their own voice, own path, own happiness. Even as my heart aches at how much and how quickly my children are growing, it fills, too, as they continue to discover and embrace their own personas, always reaching toward the next milestone.

The truth is that at some point my children’s paths and their happiness will be far less wrapped up in mine. Someday, if I do this right (and probably even if I don’t), my children will go out into the world without me. They will, essentially, no longer need me. But for now, they still do, even if it is not as complete a need as it used to be.

We have progressed through many changes, including bedtime routines. First there was rocking to sleep with the nighttime feeding. Then reading bedtime stories with three children nestled, somehow, together on my lap. For a while the children wanted lullabies and happy things to think about and exactly five Mama kisses before they drifted off to sleep. The littlest one still requires a spider check before she is tucked in, to ensure there are no creepy-crawlies lurking in the corners of her bedroom, and she often requests extra hugs and kisses and invents reasons to prolong the tucking-in process.

Most evenings, we all still read together, although the children sit around me now; they are too big to occupy my lap anymore. Then off they go to their own rooms and their own books to read. The older two are often so engrossed in whatever they’re reading that they are reluctant to pause for a bedtime hug. But I sneak in there anyway, maneuvering between child and book, pilfering all the hugs I can, for as long as they’ll let me do it. 

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her Blog: Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the November 13, 2015 edition of the Littleton Record.

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