Sometimes, when my partner is traveling for work, my daughter slips into my room before bedtime and asks to sleep with me. I always hesitate before answering because she is neither quiet nor still when she sleeps and I don’t sleep well when she is in bed with me. I remind her of this, “Remember the time I woke up to find your legs over my throat?” She smiles, “That was only one time.” That’s true, though it made quite an impression.
When I am not worried about a good night’s sleep, I put my book away and lie down. I roll onto my side and she immediately presses her body against my back and throws her arm across my body. She is not tentative and there is a peaceful possessiveness to the way she holds onto me, the way her hand relaxes on the soft place where I once carried her.
I think of my own mother and have few memories of our bodies so close together. She was not the kind of mother to hold me as I cried but the kind who would stand before me with her jaw set and tell me to be tough. We hugged when saying goodbye but there was little emotion in the ritual that was only slightly more intimate than a pat on the back.
I remember sleeping with my mother only one time. We had a cabin that was unfinished inside, just subflooring and studs. When I visited for the first time, we arrived at night and I walked in and said, “Where will we sleep?” She pointed to a stack of drywall in the middle of what would become the living room and told me to grab the blankets and pillows from the car. Even then, with only a few inches between us, we didn’t touch. It would have never occurred to me to reach out and take her hand or to curl into her or ask for comfort in any way, just as it would never have occurred to her to offer it. It didn’t seem strange to me at the time and only now that I am a mother do I understand that something was missing.
About a year before my mother’s death, I went to a medical appointment with her and as we left, she grabbed and held my hand. I startled, quickly turning to look at her, but she stared straight ahead. Holding her hand felt wrong but letting go would have felt wrong too, so, we walked to the car in silence without looking at each other, our hands joined in a tight but awkward grip.
Each time one of my children wraps their arms around me or takes comfort in my embrace, I marvel at the ease of our affection. When they drape themselves across my lap or lean into me when we walk, I am thankful for their trust. And every time I reach out my hand, I know without looking that one of them will place theirs in mine without thought and it feels right.
PHOTO CREDIT: VIKKI REICH