It’s so easy to go through the little kid years feeling exhausted, depleted and over-touched. But now that my oldest is 9, I’m realizing I’m not needed in the same way I was.
The sky was blue and the sun was high.
It was just the kind of day you want on a family vacation.
Hot, beautiful, slow.
For some reason, even the kids were mellow.
We had stopped near an island in our rented boat. The only thing between us and our anchor — lodged 20 feet below in the soft, white Bahamian sand — was a clear looking glass of bright aqua.
I edged in slowly, trying to keep pace with my husband and 4 kids who were already snorkeling. After about 20 minutes, I pulled myself back into the boat, toweled off and found a hot spot on the bow.
I closed my eyes and soaked in the intense heat. The boat bobbed gently side-to-side, a tiny rhythmic movement that was just enough to nudge me into a light doze.
A few minutes later, I felt my oldest son sit down across from me.
He touched my hand and said, “Will you massage my feet?”
It was an odd request. I’d never massaged his feet before.
A grin crept lazily across his freckled face. His eyes looked longingly at mine.
“Of course I will,” I said softly, in my relaxed state.
I looked at his feet and reached for one. It was long and heavy, almost as big as mine now and I hadn’t noticed until this moment.
My hands found the sunscreen bottle on the cushion next to me, and I squeezed some into my hands and started pressing my fingertips into my son’s heel, ankles and toes. I pushed my thumbs into his calves and moved my fingers up and down his shins.
I looked at him.
His eyes had closed. He laid back on the cushion and took a deep breath.
He was soothed.
My mind rolled over the novelty of the moment. It was probably the first foot massage of his life. (I mean, I don’t know about you but I’m not in the habit of massaging my kids’ feet. Just never thought about it, I guess.)
Come to think of it, I’ve probably been avoiding this, and any extra kid requirements involving touch for years.
Between my son and his 3 siblings — ages 3, 5, and 7 — I was lucky to steal 20 seconds of non-touch in a normal day, and that was only because I locked the door while I snuck into the bathroom to pee.
When I’d emerge, someone would’ve undoubtedly hurt themselves or their feelings, and cried, “Mommy, I need a hug!”
And so, absently and without any heart, my mind would tell my body that my child needed comforting, and so I’d wrap my arms loosely around their quivering frame until the crying stopped. And the second it did, I would leave without a word and continue on with the unending tasks of my day.
It’s not that I’m a bad mom. It’s not that I don’t love my kids.
But every day, it was my inadvertent goal to do anything I could to escape their constant touch.
And it was nearly impossible.
The nursing, the tying shoes, the wiping faces and butts. I was touching and touching and touching. Morning, noon, night, overnight. It never ended. There was no break in the continuum of my children needing my touch.
My touch was a highly-valued commodity. As they had grown from newborns to toddlers to little kids, the requirement of my soothing appreciated greatly with each year.
But then, and I don’t know when it started… they didn’t need my soothing quite as much.
They’d fall down and their brother would help them up. Or, “I’m fine!” they’d proclaim, knowing that our family values someone who can shake it off and move on.
They learned to tie their own shoes, and didn’t want my input on what shoes to wear in the first place.
They wipe their own faces and butts. They feed themselves, and get themselves water. They’ve learned not to come asking me for something they can do on their own.
My touch has lost some value. The market has changed.
The currency of my touch used to be so pricey it was almost unaffordable. I was in limited supply, and their demands were high and seemed unending.
But as little boys became bigger kids, the market changed. My touch wasn’t needed. Demand had dwindled.
They still love me, but I’m not their hero.
They still need me, but rarely.
They still hug me, but only when I ask for it and even then, it’s a few seconds and it’s gone.
Like the mom I was just a few years ago, waiting for a break in the need of the little person inside that hug, they are counting the seconds until they can be done with the obligation of hugging their Mommy and go on with their day.
They’re growing up.
I’m not as needed.
I’m glad, and it’s good. I want independent kids.
But as I sat there in the warm sun, holding my oldest’s foot in my hands, I realized that maybe I needed this touch more than he did.
Maybe this was the hug I knew I wouldn’t get without asking for it.
Maybe this was the need I could satisfy for him, as I squished sunscreen in between his hard-working little boy toes.
Like when he craved my soothing and it was the last thing I wanted to give, maybe I now craved this touch more than I ever thought possible.
Parenting is a beautiful journey. We are needed, and then we aren’t, and then we are again. And then we need them.
What a privilege to be in this continuum of time, when the currency of touch is a commodity that fluctuates from season to season. But never loses its inherent value.
And that is the priceless love of a mother and her children.