When my preemies were in the NICU there were days we could barely touch them. Their daily condition dictated how much holding we could do, how often I could sneak a hand inside their incubators and whether they were up for a sponge bath or an increase in tube feedings.
Parker was my tiniest, yet healthiest. His stats were most often good enough for skin-to-skin holds and every nurse in the place knew if he could handle a bath I would go Mama Bear on them if they did it for me. I learned to unattach his leads and unplug monitors one at a time as I washed his tiny body. When he was all bathed I’d keep him under the heat lamps for a few seconds longer, rubbing his pink limbs with baby lotion. His jerky movements and labored breathing relaxed into my hands as I massaged his teeny self. I never talked to the nurses as I massaged him, I’m not a fan of conversations through tears.
Those moments were the closest I could get to mothering him. The incubator would return in a few minutes, the wires and monitors reattached, a wall back up between my son and I. But it felt so good to give him what he needed. To hear the nurses say he was the calmest he’d been all day, how even his breaths were, how he knew just who his momma was, that he was spoiled already. I felt like I had stumbled upon a way to give him what he needed at a time when I had no idea what to do myself.
The older my kids get the bigger the decisions become and the more worried I get about screwing things up. Should they be in high back carseats or boosters or a five point harness? Do we know those parents well enough to let them play over for this long? Are sleepovers ever actually a good idea? And where in the world should these kids be going to school?
My mind has spent too much of this summer being anxious over the growing-up of my kids and the figuring-out of what I’m supposed to be doing with these people blinking at me, open bag of crackers and a too-full glasses of milk spilling at their sides. I’ve been so worried about doing things right that I’m having a tough time making any decisions at all. (Although it should be noted that I can spend 20 minutes trying to decide what I want at a restaurant I’ve been going to my whole life. But what if I order the chicken breast and realize chicken breast is the only thing I have left to make for dinner the next day? WHAT IF THAT HAPPENS?)
This afternoon Parker flopped on my bed, pouting over the injustice of having a bossy sister. I laid down next to him as he found songs to sing along to on my phone. He picked the songs, asked me to clarify the lyrics and I came up with words to gloss over swearing and sexuality (Bruno Mars actually is saying “Hot Daddy!” in Uptown Funk). As he made his way through my iTunes collection he asked me to rub his back. I traced my hands over his shoulder blades and spine, his breathing slowed and his eyes closed and I was instantly back to the NICU, feeling grateful to be able to give him what he needs.
There are so many big choices in this parenting gig so when the easy ones come I need to hang onto them. Instead of asking myself what I’m going to do about all the things I need to focus on what my kids need from me right now. Do they need reassurance or twenty band-aids or a back rub to the tune of the Lion King soundtrack still playing from my phone? The questions will not always be easy but sometimes seven years, 40 pounds and 3,000 band-aids later, the answer is still the same.
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