Tuesday, December 18, 2012

holding hands in the backseat

On Sunday night, I rode home from dinner in the backseat. Abby, the 20-month-old of the couple I live with, sat next to me, her carseat facing the back window. I remember when she was just a baby, she would scream during these car rides, and any attempts on my part to soothe her or distract her with play only made her cry louder. So I let her have her space. She probably didn’t need my crazy baby faces so close to hers, or my hands trying to find a sweet spot on her tiny body.

Now she’s a chatty toddler, eagerly pointing out everything new with the two syllables “na –na.” Everything is two syllables. Cracker is “ga-ga.” My name is “Bat-ta.” She says words all the time — to sing to herself, to express what she wants, to make sure she keeps the attention of everyone around her. She says the same words over and over, like she doesn’t care if she sounds like a broken record to everyone around her. During the drive, we saw Christmas lights and she said, “pree ites” (pretty lights) again and again. Then she wanted to dance, and started moving her arms and twisting her tiny body inside of her car seat. In the front seat, her mom put on Christmas music, and I took her hand. We danced with each other for a few measures, and then I let her hand go and looked out the window again at the houses and lights, lost in my own thoughts. “Bat-ta, Bat-ta!” She said my name until I looked at her again, then “more!” She held her hand out, and I took it again. It was tiny and warm, and her palm fit into mine like a head resting on a pillow. Abby put her other thumb in her mouth and looked out the window calmly as we sat holding hands.

These days, children are teaching me so much about relationships. Having lived more than thirty years, I know now that loneliness isn’t easy to escape, and sometimes I figure it’s what we’re all eventually destined for. But children are just learning to connect, and they are so much more fearless about it than I am. There’s no second-guessing whether I want to hold their hand, carry them around the house, feel their wriggling in my lap. A few months ago, some friends came to dinner, and when they were getting ready to leave, they prompted their four-year-old son to say goodbye and thank you. He approached me and gave me a hug, and then he didn’t let go. I felt a bit awkward — not because I don’t love this kid or his hugs, but because it was so unexpected, and so out of the ordinary for me.  I know these kids are really reaching out for their own needs to be met, to feel loved and comforted and connected, but I have to wonder if they know how much love they are giving to adults, how many hearts their tiny bodies are healing, how they are showing us to connect again.

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