Brent returns this evening from a week in Nicaragua. I hope he will share his perspective of his time there on my blog, but in the meantime, I wanted to talk a bit about what’s been going on here on the home front.
I have enjoyed a rare and precious experience this week - an entire 7 days of my son’s time and attention. Arlo typically only wants his father to hold him, put him down for bed, or comfort him.
Both of my children went through phases at about 18 months old where they preferred their father. It was a given, considering their stage of development and the fact that Brent has been their primary care giver.
I remember sobbing over the situation a few times when Everly was small. “I’m her mother and she wants nothing to do with me!” But shortly after she turned two, she began to seek me out and now at four, we are attached at the hip. She is my little companion and always ready to go anywhere and do anything with me.
When Arlo started his daddy preference, the change felt particularly hard because I had just weaned him the month before. When I stopped nursing him, I felt like I was out of tricks in my bag. I would try to hold him and he would resist. I would go to him when he needed comforting and he would push me away. “no mommy, daddy!” he would cry at me during bedtime. Sometimes, after a busy day of caring for our children, Brent is in need of a break. Every now and then, he just needs someone else to handle the tears or offer the comforting, but our son just won’t take it from me. It can be hard on all of us.
I don’t flinch when Arlo pushes me away these days. Even now that he has gotten more verbal and says things like, “I don’t want you mommy! Go away! Leave me alone. I want daddy.” Despite his preference for Brent, I still put him down for bed one night a week because I ache to do it and also because I’m a little afraid that if I just give in and never put him down to bed, then it will just push him further away from me. So I sit on the end of his bed, and swallow the hard knot in my throat and say, ” Arlo. Mommy is here tonight. I can rock you and sing to you if you want. But if not, I’m just going to sit on the end of the bed. I’m here and I’ll be here until you go to sleep.” Most nights that I put him down, he cries and protests for a bit before settling down to sleep, but some nights I can entice him to want to spend time with me by making up a game in the dark with a flashlight or making funny voices for his stuffed animals. The nights he agrees to snuggle up to me, I lay there way past the time he has fallen asleep, just soaking him in.
I don’t want this to sound like my son doesn’t ever want to be around me - he does. He will say to me in the morning, “Nuggle me mommy” and we will curl up together on the couch. We play a lot together when I get home from work and in general, we have a warm relationship. But whenever it comes to those moments when he is hurt, or tired or wakes frightened in the middle of the night - it is never me that he wants. So many times I have attempted to go to him when he is crying in the middle of the night and he will howl louder and say, “Not you! Daddy!” and I just stand there feeling helpless as Brent shuffles by me to pick up our son and end his tears.
Right after Christmas, Brent came down with a stomach bug and moved to the upstairs bedroom in an effort to keep his germs away from the children. Arlo awoke in the middle of the night, crying for his father. I went to his room and he told me to go away. I explained that daddy wasn’t able to come get him tonight and so he went walking around our house, crying hysterically and calling out for him. He wouldn’t let me hold him or comfort him and any attempt to do so would cause him to thrash and cry harder. So I sat on our living room floor, my head leaning against the couch, and made the same “shhh shhh shhh” sound I used to make when he needed comforting as a baby. It was the only thing I could do that didn’t make him cry harder and I hoped it would remind him that I was there next to him. I resisted the overwhelming desire to just hold him because it’s not what he wanted. It took almost 45 minutes before he quieted. He laid down on our couch and defeated said, “Nuggle me mommy”. And so I did. We slept there until morning.
I didn’t know how he would react this week with Brent gone. Would he roam the house every night? Would he let me comfort him when his father was not there to do it? I prepared myself for a sleepless week.
The first night Brent was away, Arlo cried at bedtime for about 5 minutes. When he woke in the middle of the night, he whimpered for his father a few times, but willingly climbed into my arms and settled down into our big king sized bed to sleep.
Every day since, whenever there has been a bumped head or a scratch he has come calling for me, accepting my kisses and comfort happily. Every night as we squeeze together in his tiny toddler bed, he has turned immediately towards me, resting his forehead against my cheek and rubbing my arm with his small hand until he falls asleep. Not a single tear or a “go away”. Just contentment and rest, which is all I could ever wish to bring him.
I have been a sponge for these moments. Filling up my reservoir and feeling hopefully that perhaps this week’s routine will continue once Brent returns.
In as much as I find fulfillment and joy in the work I do outside our home, it is this challenge with Arlo specifically that is the one thing that makes me question if it is all worth it. It feeds an insecurity in me that despite my best efforts, I’m not giving my little boy enough. What kind of mother can’t even comfort her own child? This is the first time I’ve ever said these things outloud, even though this fear has fed insecurities in the dark spaces of my mind for some time.
I keep reminding myself of how upset I felt when I went through these feelings with Everly and how those fears were short-lived. And I keep holding my arms out to Arlo, again and again, in the hopes that he will reach back for me. I’m also hopeful that maybe even when daddy returns tonight, Arlo will be more willing to let his mama comfort him too. Maybe his bedtimes with me will come with a few less tears. Maybe.
Brent keeps reminding me that there are so many stages when it comes to our children. That they will change their minds and their desires a thousand times as they grow up. And I know he is right. I’ve seen it happen again and again. But this feels like a particularly long stage in my son - I can’t help but feel eager to once again have the closeness that I share with his sister and once had with him. Getting to experience that feeling again this week with him has made me particularly emotional as I realize just how much I have missed out on with him over the past year.
I don’t know how to end this, so I will stop here. All I can really do is wait it out and never stop trying to comfort him. They come back around sometime, right? I sure hope so.