I have a boy. He is 8 months old and extremely active. He can’t stop moving. He is very physical and tactile reaching for everything – books, toys, crinkly materials and anything that protrudes, noses in particular. He is aware of his body and in control of his movements. He can spend hours lifting himself up to stand and gently lowering himself to the floor. He needs me nearby but does not want me smothering him. As long as I’m in view, he’s fine. He does his own thing.
Now I’m learning to do mine.
When I was pregnant, I formed a strong attachment to the baby very quickly. Feeling kicks brought tears to my eyes and I left every ultrasound believing that our relationship had deepened. The infant age brought out my nurturing side in full-force. I loved giving all of myself to this little boy – physically, emotionally, spiritually, in any way I could. And as a tiny nugget, he obliged. He fell asleep on me after nursing. He nuzzled in the nook of my neck. He made me feel needed.
But now, he is forming an independent self. He is busy. He has to discover the world around him, textures and sounds, people and places.
And where do I fit into all of this?
Do I act like a human bubble wrap, shielding him from any potential bruise and scrape? Or do I let him fall and stumble? Bang his head and fall to the floor? It is my character to protect him, but I see that it is his character to forge his own path with minimal guidance from me.
When I take him to a mommy and me music class, all of the other babies sit contentedly on their parents’ laps. My little one is crawling around the room. He examines the other children. He holds the wall and hoists himself up. I’m left sitting in the circle singing nursery rhymes into an empty lap. I’m proud of his curiosity and his physical determination. But I can’t help feeling sad that he resists me holding him close. I get frustrated when he pushes me away after I feed him, as if I served my purpose and now he’s done with me. Sometimes I wish he were more docile, more lump-like.
Every day I beg him to cuddle with me, but instead of melting into my arms, he pushes against my chest, stands up tall and cranes his neck to look around the room. Where did my baby go? I relent and end up placing him on the ground where he can roam free. He occasionally looks back at me to make sure I’m watching and he seems satisfied when I beam at him, but then he continues on his way.
I’m beginning to realize that what he needs from me is different from what I need to give him. I serve as his fuel to move forward, but our symbiosis has ended. I’m trying to adapt and show him that I am there when he needs me but not impose myself on him when he wants to be self-sufficient.
Interestingly, his independence is forcing me to grow more independent as well. I always thought that I would be the one to help him advance to the next stage of development. The truth is, he is showing me the way even though I’ve been digging in my heels.
Although it goes against my instincts, my job now is to smile widely, applaud his achievements and exclaim at his milestones with pride – but all at a distance. We are maturing and learning from each other, but on parallel paths and not necessarily on my preferred merging lane.
Miriam Levine is a freelance writer based in New York City, where she lives with her husband and 8 month-old son. She received her MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor’s degree in American History.