"You stayed around your children as long as you could, inhaling the ambient gold shavings of their childhood, and at the last minute you tried to see them off into life and hoped that the little piece of time you’d given them was enough to prevent them from one day feeling lonely and afraid and hopeless. You wouldn’t know the outcome for a long time.”
Meg Wolitzer, The Ten Year Nap
. . .
I've been thinking about proximity and parenting. In the early years my closeness to my kids was primarily on their behalf. I mean, of course I enjoyed it, or at least abundant moments of it. But in the early years proximity meant their survival, safety, some element of insurance. I was enlisted to deliver these young, blooming humans to adulthood and I will admit that sometimes I sighed in the service of irrationally demanding infant sergeants and capricious toddlers whose needs sometimes felt a tad at odds--if not inverse--to my own. Sometimes the only time away from them was the moment or two in the bathroom, with a child crying and jiggling the doorknob on the other side. One of the essential tasks of that early relationship felt like a tango, with their pull for closeness and my tug encouraging a little independence in them, a little space for myself.
These years, right now? I love them.* They are my mama payday: the wry observations and witty banter and deep conversations and giddy discoveries and big dreams and good question-y envelope pushing. I relish these times; I want to inhale those last "ambient gold shavings" of their growing years. It strikes me that, in some ways, the proximity equation has flipped for us as parents and children. It becomes our job (and our joy, usually) to seek them out: Where are you going? When will you be home? Want to come down from your room and join the family for a while? (Of course this varies with each child and parent and there are many ways older kids and teens still seek proximity. But remember when the worst thing for a young child used to be time out, away from us? Now in adolescence typically the gravest punishment is grounding, having to stay close.)
Don't worry, I'm not in danger of embodying the semi-creepy I'll Love You Forever model of parenting (yes, it's a sweet children's book but does that part, when the mom climbs a ladder, creeps into the adult son's bedroom and rocks him at night, strike anyone else as a little odd?). It's just that both ingredients to healthy attachment and development need advocates: Team Proximity, Team Independence. The occasional, necessary tug-and-pull tango still happens; we've just somehow, instinctively, switched directions along the way. I don't know when it happened but I sense we're dancing toward the door.
. . .
*Yes. I hear you. Though I completely love this stage, I will be the first to add that the issues and heartbreaks of this later, mid-stage mothering period are much more complex and less easily resolved than a midnight feeding or a sandwich cut on the diagonal.