Child 2 is currently engaged in one of her clingiest patches ever. Given that this is the chid that for roughly six months refused to move from my hip, this is a feat of some proportion. We are, therefore, mired in an ongoing battle between assuaging her (somewhat overwhelming) need, and saving my sanity.
There are many, many lessons I’ve learned since I became a parent, but this is one of the most profound. I used to watch little boys and girls climbing all over their mothers in the park, placing wet kisses all over their faces, clutching them with grubby hands, and be entirely charmed by it. How sweet, I thought, and fondly imagined the day when I’d have my own child who loved me more than life itself. Loved me so much, in fact, that they had to show it. All the time. I didn’t realise that with that love and adoration and sweetness also came a shameful – and endlessly complex and twisted in that way so often found in motherhood – desperation just to be left alone, just for a minute.
The day child 2 was born, she cried (or grizzled, or whinged, or whatever way you want to put it) for approximately ten hours. (I know, I didn’t believe it either. I thought newborns slept all the time too) Then she fell asleep (in a sling) for a bit, and then woke up and cried again. For approximately a year. Yes, yes, there were patches – that I came to remember as some kind of hallucinatory dream – when she was a good sleeper – a few weeks when she was really tiny- but mostly she cried. The only time she didn’t cry was when I (always I, although she’d grudgingly accept her father if I’d fled the house.) was carrying her, or holding her, or had her in the sling. My favourite friends were the ones who would come round, take her from me immediately, and never give her back, no matter how much she whinged. My least favourite were the ones who said ‘oh, she wants her mummy’ the second she cried, and handed her straight back. I had to stop myself hissing ‘she ALWAYS wants her mummy. Take her! Take her away!’
At the same time as often violently resenting (with the requisite hefty dose of maternal guilt) that only Mummy would do (especially at 2am), I was, naturally, charmed and tremendously beguiled by it. My love for her was all the more fierce because she was very far from a popular baby or toddler with family and friends. After all, it’s pretty difficult to love a child who in early life screams the house down when someone other than Mummy has picked her up and in slightly later life treated most other adults with some level of scorn. I understood – in her child brain, she didn’t need anyone other than me. I was all that was important. Her stand-offishness became a standing joke amongst my friends; she never offered smiles, cuddles, or even words. If asked for a kiss, she would deliberately turn to me and say ‘no, kiss Mummy.’ There has never been any shortage of kisses from my sweet daughter where I’m concerned.
Which means, of course, that I feel real guilt over sometimes finding it somewhere beyond exhausting. My love for her and her brother is the most intense and crushing and all consuming I have ever known – it borders on the obsessive. They interest me endlessly, their small, intricate thoughts, their complex, perfect little bodies, their sweet, innocent relationships. I could never know enough about them. I could never satisfy my need for information about the times I am not with them. I could never talk about them enough. But sometimes – just sometimes – I wish she could need me just a little less.
Every day, she doesn’t want to leave my side, and every night, we battle over where she will sleep. The evening ends one of two ways: she cries about how much she misses me until allowed to go to sleep in my bed, secure in the knowledge she will be with me all night (yes, I know it’s a slippery slope but right now we’re so far down that slope that we can’t even see it any more) or I find her in my bed anyway later. I then move her, and, without fail, she appears again a few hours later and creeps in beside me. Most nights, this doesn’t bother me or my husband. Some nights, I crave beyond all measure a moment in the day when someone does not need me.
And yet…. as she clings to me it’s difficult not to hold her fragile little body close, breathing her in, my beautiful, sweet, wonderful little girl, and think of a time when she won’t need me this way. And of all those people who aren’t lucky enough to have a child who loves them beyond all measure and control. And so, even in those moments that she drives me to distraction with the way she clings to me so tightly, as if she’ll never let me go, I hope in some ways she never will.