I often feel like the Velveteen Rabbit. This is because much of Zack’s love is focused on me, with my face his touchstone. He presses his fingers into my cheek in a repetitive pulsing motion dozens of times each day. This especially happens when we are in a crowd of people or he needs reassurance of some kind. But it also happens throughout each day as he orbits around me in our home.
I once tried to extinguish this behavior; but I missed it. It brings him near, and I know it’s one of my son’s ways of saying, “I love you, Mom.”
Zack used to end each face massage with a hair pull. That part of the ritual annoyed me. I repeatedly said, “Gentle, Zack,” and occasionally got frustrated and said, “Stop doing that!” Now he doesn’t pull very often, and that’s better.
Sometimes Zack simply puts his hand on top of my head. It is large, like his dad’s, and warm. It feels like a Papal blessing to me. Sometimes he leaves it on my back for a few moments and it warms me clear through. I love that the most. And lately, he has begun to gently squeeze my toes when we are sitting next to each other on the couch. He gets a mischievous look in his eyes sometimes and tries to pull my foot to his mouth as if he’s going to bite my toe. I say, “Ouch!” and we both laugh.
These actions and other non-verbal games provide a constant current of connection between my 20-year-old and me. I look back and remember that this was my biggest concern in those early days when eye contact was hard to maintain and he didn’t like to be touched.
That time is a distant memory, both physically and emotionally—but it took a lot of time and work to bring us to the place we enjoy today. From our first game of taking turns “Hmmm-ing” to each other while he sat on my lap, to singing songs repeatedly, to reading and rereading endless Dr. Seuss, we have many points of meeting.
Like me with him, I think Zack knows where I am and what I’m doing 99 percent of the time. In a world that values independence and personal boundaries this may sound stifling or unhealthy. I think it’s wonderful.
Zack has other games that keep him well-connected to his dad, too. They wrestle and are much more physically rough than he is with me. He knows to be gentle with Mom.
Whenever either his father or mother is away from home Zack has his radar on, waiting for us to come back. It’s not like he’s sitting and watching out the window, like our dog Lily did; but he hears the car as it turns into our long driveway and opens the front door with a big smile and wave, and a hearty, “Hi there!”
I feel like the most important person in the world at that moment—and I am, to Zack. And so are you, to your child.
Elizabeth, those are insightful thoughts that would never have occurred to me. You are a very understanding and empathetic person. Just reading about the behaviors — and having seen them in person and not understanding at all what was going on — about face being pinched or hair pulled — incites me to thoughts of running, swiftly, in the other direction. Bless you! Your words have something to teach many of us about tolerance and new ways of thinking.
Freda – Yes, I suppose it is very different to see Zack’s and my relationship from the outside than to be in it. He is so very precious to me, and he teaches me so much. God has also given me the grace of tolerance and love beyond what I could conjure on my own!
So beautiful, Elizabeth. Thank you for sharing about these tender, sweet moments with Zach. Your pictures together are precious.