how i came back, part 1: or, when you look at your child and feel nothing

Monday, July 29, 2013

By the time we packed the moving van, I was a mess.

Hands by barnabywasson
photo by barnabywasson at flickr
In the weeks leading up to the move, my husband flowed between excitement and nostalgia, overwhelm and relief.  My kids were teary, staring into the great yawning unknown.  Teachers hugged the boys tightly, sweet friends left endearing good-byes on my doorstep and voicemail, grandparents showered us with time and attention.  Emotion welled up all around me, and I felt ... nothing.  No twinge over leaving my babies' nursery, no fear over the financial risk, no excitement about the adventure.  I had flatlined.  Even in the moment I knew it was all wrong.  Somehow, I had to reconnect.

I decided to begin with my kids.

No - "decide" suggests premeditation.  It was not a decision, but a deep need, a pull, something that went beyond any sort of deliberation.  Before our lives had crumbled, daily life with my kids had been rich with purpose.  I didn't fill juice cups because I relished pouring juice; I did it to nourish and sustain them.  Every packed lunch, clean diaper, or folded pair of jeans meant something much deeper than the thing itself.  In a thousand tiny ways every day, I tended my children, cultivating their little bodies and hearts and souls.  But in my current state, daily routines no longer felt like palpable love.   Life had become about pouring juice.

I intuitively knew the deeper purposes of motherhood - the drive behind the daily grind - was the right entry point.  If anything could be recovered, it was that.

I started by holding my children's hands.

It began during stops on our three-day drive northwest.  When I pulled over to nurse the baby, I would hold out my hand to whoever was talking to me.  If I needed to give instructions, I held their hand first.  Any time a child was standing close to me, intentionally or not, I would reach for them (particularly the older two.  Since toddlers often see hand-holding as a push against their autonomy, I picked up my little girl instead. The baby was naturally physically close).  

I had never stopped offering the requisite bedtime kisses or hand-holding for safety's sake, but deliberate, extraneous touch was new.  It drew us back to one another. When I held their tiny hands, I was fully present, seeing them as whole little people again, instead of another set of chores to tick off before bedtime.

For me, it was my first blinking step back into sunlight; for them, it was an anchor.  Every day we drove further and further from the only house they had ever known, toward a place they had never even seen, with no idea of what we would do when we got there.  They needed the security of my presence.  I invited them back into my world, or maybe I stepped back into theirs.  Either way, their demeanors softened.  They hugged me more, climbed onto my lap or rested on my shoulder whenever they could. In the coming weeks, as each child dealt with the anxiety of making a major life change, these simple intimacies soothed and reassured them.

My first step back into a whole, real existence was to reach out to my children.  Because life was never meant to be about pouring juice.  


  1. Oh Steph. I needed this tonight. We're in a hard phase with the boys and I am struggling to connect. The day just seems like something to get through.

  2. PS The blog looks awesome. I did not know I could find templates on Etsy. When finances even out, I will have to do that.

  3. This is such a sweet post of the importance of touch and reaching out to hold someones hand - be it your child or your friend. Thank you for sharing at "Tell Me a Story." Please return again.



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