“Stand up on your own,” I insisted. “You’re a big boy.” The words came out of my mouth, and I instantly felt regret.
To put things into context, I need to first go back. Things with my 20-month old have been trying lately. He is in a cycle of flip-flopping between asserting independence and wanting to constantly be held. I feel like my patience is being tested at every step, and earlier that day, things got out of hand.
I had just put him down for a nap and was really looking forward to having a break. I prepared lunch, poured an extra cup of coffee and got comfy in my favorite chair. Just as I was settling in, I turned to the monitor expecting to see a sleeping boy, only to find my son scaling the wall of his crib and opening his bedroom door. Up until that day he had never been able to do either of these things and yet there he was, marching down the hallway like he had just conquered the world.
I have to admit that at first I was amused at his triumphant smile and impressed by his abilities, but my enjoyment of the situation quickly changed as I spent the rest of his naptime putting him back into his crib and frantically trying to come up with a solution to keep him contained.
Needless to say, I didn’t get the break I was desperate for, and by dinner time I was close to my breaking point. So as I tried to make dinner and he pulled at my legs, begging to be picked up, every instinct told me to resist.
I couldn’t pick him up, food needed to be cooked. I wouldn’t pick him up, he needed to learn to wait. I didn’t pick him up, and instead, I looked him in the eye and demanded that he stand up on his own, “like a big boy.”
He turned his head, stopped clinging to my legs, and I felt a pang of sadness pull at my chest. When he walked away and found something else to do, I knew it was good for him to understand the need to wait, and the need to respect the boundaries of others, but this knowledge didn’t make me want to pat myself on the back. It made me want to cry as I realized that my baby was not yet a “big boy,” and that he still needed me. Not just at that moment, but every day.
He needs me to explain things about the world that he doesn’t understand, he needs me to listen to the words that he is trying to form and he needs me to give him love when his changing emotions are beyond his understanding or control. That night I may not have known why he wanted so desperately to be held, but at that moment he needed me, and I turned him away.
In saying the words, “Be a big boy,” it’s like I was trying to rush the process, and I suddenly wanted to scream for time to slow down. I became utterly aware of the fact that my baby would actually be a “big boy” someday.
When that day comes, the needs of a toddler will disappear and new demands will set in. He will demand space and privacy. He will demand I let him do things on his own. He will demand freedom, and he won’t understand when I ask him to be held.
If I could go back to my son as he clung tightly to my legs, I’d scoop him up and hold him in my arms.
I’d make dinner one-handed and teach him how to stir.
I’d show him how to pour the spices.
I’d kiss his cheeks and give him tastes along the way.
I’d whisper in his ear and tell him, “Be a big boy when you’re ready. I won’t rush you anymore. I will hold you when you ask me, and I’ll still let you need me a little more.”