"Mama!" my daughter cries from the other room.
"Mama, Mama!" she wails, clearly more asleep than awake.
It is the middle of the night and I am groggy and trying to gage the situation. Will she simply roll over and fall back asleep or do I really need to intercede? I'm so tired and out of it. I fight down a pang of irritation. I am not at my best during minor child dramas in the wee hours. I excel in an emergency, like injury or vomit. But I struggle to rouse myself for simple weeping. I am really hoping she'll just cry herself out quickly and go back to sleep.
"Mama!" The cries continue from the other room. Hubby nudges me, "You're being paged. It's your turn."
He is right. It is most definitely MY turn. I have been travelling, practically gone more often than I am home in the past few months. My guilt urges me awake. My baby is crying out for her mother in a subconscious state because she is uncertain if I am home or not - uncertain when she will see me. I am wide awake with this realization. I am a jerk. I jump out of bed, cross the hall, and ease myself into her toddler bed, barking my shins on the guard rail.
Ribh immediately nestles into my arms, burrowing her nose in my neck, sighing contentedly. Voila! Crisis averted. I snuggle into the tiny cocoon of her minuscule bed, my nose filled with the sweet scent of my child, her sticky finger curving around my neck. I sigh, wishing I could hold her even closer.
In this still moment, filled to the brim with the love of my baby, I realize that my need for her was as deep as her need for me. I need to be with her and she needs to be with me. We are family. We are part of each other. I have been missing her and longing for her and yet busying myself with all the stuff I need to do. I have been defining my role to my family as the person they need to do things. I pride myself by how I am "needed" in action terms. I am needed to do the laundry. I am needed to clean the house. I am needed to organize life.
As I hold her, I think about my family and their needs. I define family on broader terms than most. My family is comprised of not just those to whom I am related by blood. (In fact, sadly, I have blood relatives to whom I feel little in the way of authentic connection.) I define family by connection. It is the little things that inextricable link us. Those tiny moments of deep connection are how we truly know one another and recognize the soul of another. Family is not about need, duty or guilt.
I hold my daughter, cheek to cheek, bathed in her sweet breath - soul to soul. She sleeps deeply once again. I am awash in gratitude. I am thankful for all of my family. My family reminds me that often the most important thing I can do is be present. It doesn't mean I should beat myself up for the time I am away from them. It means I must take the time to connect in all the small ways, whether here or afar. And there is always enough time for that.
"Mama" Ribh sighs as she settles into sleep. I am no longer needed, just loved.