I got to spend some time with my “other man” yesterday–my friend’s 15-month-old son, Jack. I met within an hour or two after he was born and have felt connected to him ever since–connected enough to want to be at Children’s Hospital in Seattle when he had surgery for sagittal synostosis at five months of age.
Yesterday, Jack and I visited the goats and chickens and watched his elder brother play with my son, but we really hit our stride when we went inside, sat on the couch and started looking at board books. Then we moved to the dining room table, where he sat on my lap for a long time, eating cereal out of a bag. There is nothing quite like the feeling of a relaxed and contented toddler on your lap.
The Jack-is-my-guru moment came later, when I kissed him on the cheek. He leaned toward me and presented his face again, so I kissed it. Again, and I kissed it, and again, and again. It moves me when children do that–they are so confident in their lovability that they fully expect to be adored.
At 15 months old, Jack is of no “use” whatsoever. He cannot “earn” someone’s love by behaving well, doing his chores, or getting good grades. Jack just is and that is enough. He knows that is enough.
I don’t know how old I was when I concluded that being was no longer enough to warrant my mother’s love. At a very young age, I began doing things that I hoped would make me lovable–specifically the things that made her happy. Right or wrong, the math in my young brain went something like this:
mom + happy = Petra is loved
mom – happy = Petra is unloved
My life depended on my mother’s love, so I read every facial expression, anticipated her needs, and met them–often before she asked. I resolved to become whoever she would love–and lost myself entirely in the process. I would not begin to reclaim myself until I was 28 years old, and at 47, I’m still working at it.
I am trying to remember what I hope Jack will never forget: that being who I am is all it takes to be worthy of love.
Who I am is enough.
Kris Wiltse’s illustrations for one of two “Loving” cards from the Mixed Emotions card deck.