This morning I groggily padded downstairs to be met by my six year old who, having been up for at least an hour before me, wanted me to help her get a snack out of the fridge, set up a messy art activity for her, tell her what plans we have today, and listen to her latest made-up song. Chat, chat, chat! Sensory overload! It was a little too much for this bedraggled mother in her slippers and dressing gown at 7am. I attempted to escape to the kettle, saying I could do nothing until I had a cup of tea. She thought of some new things to say as I waited for it to boil: questions about when Daddy would come home; could she go upstairs quietly (her sister is still asleep) and get her karaoke machine (God help me, no!!); look at this new dance she made up. Oh silence, oh peace, where are you now?
A moment later I went to the bathroom to take care of some, er, morning business. Well don’t you know, she followed me there: “Mummmmmmeeeee, when are we going to make the new dough for my princess play tub? You saaaaiiiid you would do that at the start of the week, and you stiiiiiill haven’t done it. Mummmmmeeeee, why aren’t you answering me?!”
When my first child was just over a year old I found a book in the library called The Social Toddler, a book that was full of photographs and video stills. The authors had spent time with families and watched their normal, daily interactions, taking video footage and photographs. They then compiled these pictures into a book along with text to explain toddler behaviour. It was an eye-opener for me: an opportunity to understand the world from my child’s perspective.
One photograph that has stayed with me since reading that book was a photo of a mother standing at the sink doing the dishes, with her toddler on the floor behind her playing with a colander and other kitchen items. The caption was something along the lines of, “the need to be near.”
The need for what?
The need to be near. I knew that little ones had a need to be fed, a need to sleep (in theory), a need to have a drink… but a need to be near? You would think I would have figured this out after a year of motherhood, but I think that perhaps I had thought that by one Iona would have grown out of wanting to be so close to me. And I certainly didn’t see it as a need.
Let’s pause to laugh for a bit at Lisa’s naivety….
So the need to be near. There it is. Yes, little children: babies, toddlers and even my six year old and my nine year old have a need to be near me. We humans want company. We are social animals. And what’s more, my children depend on me for survival. Of course they want to be near me.
Now I notice it all the time. We’ll all be in the kitchen and I’ll walk into the sitting room. Sure enough, like a compass pointing north, my children slowly follow one by one. If I’m outside in the garden, there they are… but if I go back in the house, here they come. I am the Pied Piper of Hammelin, leading a long line of little children around wherever I go.
Sometimes, like this morning, it catches me off guard and I’m not ready for the never-aloneness of having young children. It feels like too much, like wearing a sweater that’s too tight. I can’t get comfortable; I’m constantly tugging at it; I want to escape. I long for a little bit of quiet time, some silence, some space.
But I remind myself of my experience last night of watching my family sitting down to dinner. I stood at the stove finishing off the cooking and I watched my husband serving out the food, and my children talking with him about their interests, and one by one I imagined them disappearing.
*pop* *pop* *pop* *pop*
And I saw myself standing in the kitchen, by myself, making a meal for myself, eating it alone. I saw that my life is infinitely richer because of their presence. And I saw that not only do they have a need to be near me, but I to them.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, ‘Family Portrait’ by Eric Ward