Photos: Amy Claire Family Archives
Recently I received an email with the subject line “Baby Games & Activities.” It led me to list of games I’m supposed to have been playing with my baby for the past eight months. Since Stanton was a newborn, there have been at least four different games for every month of his life that I have not been playing with him. Holy crap. Bad-mom self-loathing overload. I’ve got peekaboo covered. But Pass the Hat, Jack in the Can, and Rodeo Days? No. Swat Team, Bubble Bottle, and Tug a Lug? Nope. I have not been playing those.
And what even are those games? I thought I was supposed to sing (in my horrific singing voice) to him. And play with blocks and dance and read. Read, read, read! Books! I thought books were the thing. But now this email is telling me that I’m not honing his gross motor skills, his sense of cause and effect, or his body awareness! I did spent $75 and two hours assembling a jumper thingy, and the second I put him in it he screamed bloody murder. It had lots of toys and was supposed to be my magic hands-free device so I could put a dish in the sink. Now I learn that I’m supposed to be introducing four new interactive games to him a month?
My mother died when I was three months pregnant. Losing your mother when you’re about to become a mother is obviously a heartbreaking paradox, but being pregnant is what saved me from using the loss as an excuse to treat myself badly. By which I mean drink too much and smoke lots and lots of cigarettes. I mourn two things the most: finally understanding what it feels like to be a mother and being able to discuss that with her and being able to ask her mommy questions. My sister is a wonderful mother but her kids are young. We don’t know the long-term results of her parenting choices yet. I want facts about my upbringing because I know I turned out to be a slightly cranky, over-sharing weirdo. But I can’t call my mom and ask her if I’ve ruined Stanton’s life by not playing Tummy Bubbles and Bend Over Butterfly. (And, by the way, I simply do not appreciate the pressure our culture puts on this world of “perfect mothering” that makes me even have to drop the dead-mom card here. Why do I feel so inadequate to spiral all the way down that path at all?)
When I was single I lived in a magical bungalow with a narrow ethereal courtyard that ran the length of the building between eight cozy apartments. It was lush, with hanging flowers and a fountain that gurgled right outside my window. A young mom lived in the bungalow at the front near the swinging gate, and she had a 5-year-old boy named Sam. One afternoon I saw them sitting on the brick of the courtyard in the sun. She had her legs stretched out and Sam sat in her lap. Her arms were wrapped around him as they sat in silence.
I thought it was a very sweet moment but it wasn’t until my own son came into the world that I understood how truly magical a moment that was for her. From the moment Stanton was born I’ve wanted nothing more than to hug him. It seems to be the most gratifying way to express my love to him. I just want to swallow him whole with my embrace. I cannot get enough. Not even close. As he grows he’s becoming more and more curious and mobile, making him more and more squirmy. At eight months it’s already a rarity that he will allow me a long hug with his head on my shoulder. I know that this is only the beginning, and that soon he will be running free and won’t have as much time for Mom to smother him with cuddles.
So when I think of my sweet neighbor and her Sam now, I realize how special that moment was. The joy she must have felt to just sit still with him in a silent hug. I now understand why my mom would hug me and say with a hint of sadness, “Amy, you’re getting so tall.” I was growing and I was squirmy and she wanted to hug me.
So, well-intended baby people, you can send me a list of games I should play with my baby every five minutes, but I’m telling you right now, nothing is better than showing him I love him and nothing does that better than a hug. In that regard I’m well above the requirement
The joy she must have felt to just sit still with him in a silent hug.