Barnacle Babies and Bodily Autonomy
Note: I wrote the bulk of this post almost a year ago and it's all still true. Except now there are no more baby gates and Olivia is fast as hell, so it's harder for Natalie to be "awone."
Oh, Olivia. My sweet little barnacle. Natalie has always been physically affectionate, but like me, also appreciates her personal space. It's not uncommon for her to retreat upstairs past the baby gate where Olivia can't follow, shouting, "I JUST WANT TO BE AWONE RIGHT NOW, OWIVIA!!"
I empathize with this desire to withdraw, to be alone, to take a break from people. She and I are cut from the same cloth in that regard.
But Olivia is Velcro: incomplete without somebody to stick to.
And that somebody is me.
If I'm sitting on the floor, she never strays too far before barreling into my arms at top speed, wrapping her chubby arms around my neck and screeching happily into my shoulder. If her sister has the audacity to be sitting in my lap, Olivia dances agitatedly around my legs, flapping her hands and crying until I make room for her. And then tries to push Natalie off my lap.
She wants to be held, constantly. When I pick her up she pops one thumb into her mouth as her other hand slides behind my neck so she can twirl my hair. She pulls out my hair by the fistful and is both shocked and bewildered when she brings me to tears.
(This is why my entire google search history is some variation on "undercut haircuts for long hair," or, in my more desperate moments, "popular pixie cuts.")
In her more exuberant moments she BITES me. Not an angry bite; more like a puppy excitedly nipping at you because they don't know any better. Her wide, toothy smile lands on my knee or my shoulder and at first it's all awww you are the cutest and then suddenly I'm shrieking and trying not to dropkick my baby across the room because GODDAMN DOES THAT HURT.
I love that her face lights up when she sees me, even if I just went around the corner for ten seconds. I love the feeling of her solid body softening into me when she rests her head on my shoulder. I love the tiny little bear hugs she gives me when I lift her out of her crib in the morning.
But I don't know how to how to parent a child that wants to be in physical contact with me for 95% of her waking hours and still maintain my sanity.
Logically, I know the following things to be true:
- I love my kids.
- I am fortunate to spend my days with them.
- I will miss these moments when they're teenagers and are embarrassed to be seen in the same room as me, let alone give me a hug.
But when you're in the thick of it and somebody is crying in your ear while another set of hands tugs on your shirt, and you can't even retreat to the bathroom without watching the doorknob slowly turn from the outside like something from a horror movie, it can be hard to maintain a feeling of gratitude.
So how do I deal with this? Where's my list of must-do tips to combat feeling "touched out," when the thought of one more well-meaning hug from your toddler makes your skin crawl?
I don't have a magic answer. I know that spending time away from my kids makes me a better mom, but that's not always easy to do. I know that CONSISTENTLY taking time for myself works far better than waiting until I've reached a breaking point and fantasize about running away and curling up in a hotel room completely alone for a week.
These are hard things to admit. That I don't always enjoy hugging my kids. That I have moments when I want to push them away from me and sprint out the door. But in talking to so many moms over the last year, I've learned that this is totally normal.
EVERY mom feels touched out at times.
EVERY mom feels guilty for feeling touched out at times.
EVERY mom would like to, every once in a while, pee alone.
There's nothing wrong with me. Being a good mom AND being mournful of the bodily autonomy I used to have are not mutually exclusive states.
Eventually my little barnacle will detach. Eventually I'll be chasing her for hugs. But it's still ok not to savor EVERY moment.
It doesn't make me a bad mom. It makes me human.