Chloe clutches her baby blanket and rubs her stuffed monkey “Rahanukkah” on her cheek. Her big eyes gaze up at me, already between wakefulness and sleep, and she asks for one more kiss and hug before I go downstairs to my bag of schoolwork.
“You really love that blanket.” I mean this as a question, but it comes out as a statement, and she nods her head in wordless agreement. “It makes you feel safe.” Again, she nods, and snuggles further, the look of contentment so apparent that it takes my breath away.
I remember my own childhood feelings of being held, feeling safe. I can picture myself curled up in my top bunkbed, my sister settling underneath. I remember the glasses of water, run from the bathtub tap because my Dad humored the six year old Sarah’s idea that it was the coldest of any faucet in the house. He would check my ceiling for spiders, and close my closet door, and then he would kiss me and tuck me in, saying “sleepy tight.. don’t let the bed bugs bite”. There was so much comfort in this routine. I felt cared for. Held.
As the years come and go, it’s this feeling that I miss the most. Perhaps it’s one of the struggles that many people experience, but maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s something unique to me. I recognize that I was lucky to have a childhood like mine. I recognize that so many children grow up never feeling safe, or held, or loved. I also recognize that our society is not one oriented to talking about our feelings on a regular basis.
As a grown up… a momma, teacher, wife, etc..I find myself frequently in the position of being the holder. At school, I try so hard to hold on to my students… I don’t want any of them to fall through the cracks. Some days I feel like a rubberband. On these days, holding can feel like containing, stretching, struggling. They move in so many directions, and I try to be everywhere at once. Then I go home. Here, my own babies spend so much of their time away from me that I feel like I have to make the most of every moment, to be sure that they feel held as well.
At the end of the day, so often I feel depleted… like I have given all that I have to give. I yearn for that feeling of comfort… that feeling of being held. I know I’m not the only person who has a default setting to achieve comfort in unhealthy ways… things that feel good in the moment… a bowl of ice cream, zoning out on my phone, binge watching netflix.
I’ve gotten better at monitoring myself when I slip into these routines, for I’ve learned that things that feel good don’t always make me FEEL GOOD. In fact, many times they make me feel emptier than how I felt to start.
What I’m working on is how to achieve balance… how to take care of myself, hold myself, in the midst of an insane schedule and life. And here, things can get complicated. When I’m exhausted because I’ve worked until 11pm (because my job demands this sometimes), and I skip my 5:30 exercise class to get more sleep, that’s self-care. When I stay up until midnight watching netflix, and then skip my workout, that’s self-indulgent. There’s a difference. When I am careful about my sugar and starch intake, but allow myself to enjoy a homemade cookie with my family, that’s self care. When I start to reach into the bag of pretzels or reach for the animal crackers because I’m stressed, that’s self indulgent.
I need to be firm and loving with myself, just like I’m firm and loving with everyone else I hold. And when I am, when I do the things that are truly nurturing and caring, I do feel good. Putting myself to bed, writing, lighting a candle, turning off my phone, passing on the junk food, going for a run, hugging my husband, calling a friend… these may not be a cold glass of water from the bathtub tap, and they may not be a “sleepy tight, I love you” from my dad…
but they make me feel held.