Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Let Him Be Right.

The first night Luca was home from the hospital, I thought I would lose my mind. Sleep deprived. Sore. Curled into a recliner with pillows and blankets and pacifiers and a baby whose red faced shrieked to me in rage, "You are fucking this up!"

She wouldn't latch. Hadn't nursed fully as far as I knew since the one time some strange nurse turned a bright light on over my hospital bed at some unearthly hour and man-handled my breast to get her attached. Here I was at home with no nurse and no bright light and no one who knew what to do and my baby would only cry. She cried and cried and her face was red and her arms were so skinny, my little bird, and I sobbed in that uncontrollable heaving way so many sleep-deprived and hormone-flooded new moms have experienced.

Through fat tears, my husband's face grew closer. His hands lifted and repositioned our new baby. He helped me latch her and gently rubbed at her chin to get her to suck and before I knew it my baby was eating. Eating, which meant she was not crying. Eating, which meant no more shriek to remind me I was clueless and a brief respite from feeling like a caged wild mama bear whose cub is on the other side of the gate begging me for help.

That moment where my husband stepped in and took control and knew just what to do to help didn't solve all our problems. Breastfeeding my daughter was one of the hardest things I ever did. And the big lesson it taught me that night is that sometimes, in parenting, my husband really is right.


There's a trend in the world of moms, to paint the men in our lives as less than us. Less capable. Less instinctual. Less smart. Less nurturing. Less skilled. Less of a parent.

We break them down into traits and characters. We tell ourselves and others that we're right and they are wrong. We tell them. We tell them in tears and in words, in passive aggressive behavior and in vitriolic words. We overstep them. We parent them because we seem to think they need it. As though we know better. As though by the virtue of being the mother we know; by virtue of being a man they can't possibly.


We forget the power of those hopeless moments of desperation, a crying baby with fat tears and strained lungs from crying. Those moments when we're lost in our primal mama bear moments and through tears we see the same hands that helped guide our baby here, into our arms, guiding us together. Rubbing a newborn baby chin and silencing the desperation with calm.


Out of the bath, wrapped in a warm blanket with wet hair and skin the color of apricots. Sitting on the bed, smoothing lotion over legs that keep growing, over toes with chipped polish and hands that now hold a pencil and expertly write her name and all the letters of the alphabet. We have these talks a lot, a routine we started when she was old enough to understand. This is yours, this body. This sacred land of soft skin and long eyelashes and feet that dance circles across my bedspread. Who is allowed to touch you? No one but me. Me and mommy and daddy, and only if you have to. Never if I say no. Who do you talk to if someone hurts you? Mommy. Or daddy. Grandma. A teacher. A police officer or a fireman.

"I have a scratch," she says, pointing. This body. This perfect little body folded into leggings and skirts and boots. Folded right now into a towel. This perfect little body over which I am smoothing lotion, lifting her wet hair to run my hands across her shoulders and down her arms. I freeze inside, but on the outside I am the calm in the storm.

A boy in her class. Lunchtime. A hand under the table and she moved away reflexively. A scratch and my brain feels on fire. She is five. He is too, or maybe six. I know enough. I know it's normal. I know that kids do these things and curiosity is the elixir of childhood. I know, also, of mugshots and headlines. Of children who are curious and grow to be men who steal innocence. Men who hurt. Who take childhood and twist it like an ugly nightmare. And this body. The same body that once unfolded from me like a lotus flower and slept on my chest heartbeat to heartbeat. My brain is on fire and it buzzes.

It's normal. It's probably harmless.

I will move her to another school. I will never let her leave my sight.

Instead: "Tell me what happened?"

A boy who touched her at lunch, from whom she pulled away. Told him not to do that. Told the teacher.

She did everything right, and sweet relief floods me, soaking through my veins. She did it right. She remembered our talks and she did it all the way we taught her.

We talk as the minutes pile up in the corner, going over what happened. Who he is. Does she sit by him in class? No. Did he get sent to the office? Yes. Is she ok? Yes.

She did everything right. We did everything right. He's five maybe. Maybe six. It's normal and it's still not ok.

Not to mama bear.


Before I tuck her into her bed, wrap her in a Tinkerbell blanket with another pink blanket on top, I ask her if she wants to tell her daddy. She does.

She tells her daddy. A window of rage in his eyes, which he shutters quickly. His hand, again, under her chin. This time he looks in her eyes, holding her face, and he says, "You did everything right. And if that (fucking son of a bitch no-good kid) boy touches you again, you don't just tell him no."

My brain. On fire again. Is he for real?

"If he does that again, you grab the back of his head, push it down toward your leg, and land your knee square against his nose."

He's for real.


She sleeps soundly. Her dreams, no doubt, of unicorns and fairies. She is safe. She is loved. She did everything right.

Downstairs, I approach the subject. I suggest calling her teacher. Making sure the boy isn't near her ever again in his natural-born life. Maybe he can be moved to another class? Maybe he can wear a straight jacket to keep his 'normal, curious' hands to his goddamned self? Maybe he's been expelled? I plan what to say next. What to do. How to be at work all day while simultaneously serving as her personal bodyguard and never leaving her alone with another boy ever again.

"She remembered," he tells me, "so you have to let it go. She did everything right, and if he touches her again she can knee him in the nose."

But I want to keep talking. I want to be sure she knows she did it right. It's not her fault. It's probably normal and probably benign and yet she can always say no. I wonder aloud at a meeting with the teacher. I wonder aloud at what more we need to talk about, to be sure she won't suffer some body-dysmorphic asexual side effect to the perv in kindergarten's actions. I wonder aloud and he stops me.

"You have to let it go. She's fine. She did it right and she will probably never bring it up again. If she does, you talk to her. You show her the best way to knee a guy in the nose. But until then, stop. Stop talking. Because it makes you feel better and you want to keep talking, but you talk and it makes it bigger and it grows until it's a Thing instead of just something that happened at school once and then she did everything right. Don't bring it up with her again. She talked to you now. She'll talk again if she needs to. Don't beat the subject to death to ease your own mind. For her sake, let it go."

And I listen. I listen because of the times I've wanted to be the nurterer and he knew the kids needed a "That sucks, but get over it" approach. I listen for the time I tried to talk to the kids about stranger danger and safety words and he interrupted and said, "If a stranger approaches, run. Yell and run and if you have to kick and punch. But first, you run." I listen because when the mama bear is in her cage and pacing and growling and wants to pull her cubs close but she can't because they are on the other side of the gate - - - those are the times papa bear teaches them how to climb the fence.


I am a flawed mother. A flawed wife. But I love them fiercely and so does he. And I am so thankful for a husband who changed diapers and helped his wife breastfeed and smooths lotion over those same limbs that used to be exclusively ours but are now exclusively theirs. Sometimes my heart loses to his instinct, and in those times I'm so grateful for the instinct of a loving dad to guide them.

1 comment:

GirlX said...

You may view yourself as flawed, as so many of us do, being our own worst critics.

I view you as the parents I wish I had. I mean that. Sometimes it's hard to read this blog, because I'm so happy for your kids but I also wish I had what they have.

They are lucky to have you.


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