Recently, my two-year-old son was separated from my mother-in-law whilst at the shopping mall. It took thirty minutes for him to be found: he was happily wandering around, quite a large distance away from where they first became separated. Apparently he very happily took the hand of the security guard who located him and guided him back to my mother-in-law, but of course she was distressed.
Later that day, when she told me what happened, I was shocked at my own internal reaction – first that adrenaline surge of shock, following by a vehement wish that this had happened to any other of my children but this one.
I am hesitant to name it, but my youngest child is extra precious to me. I have never experienced this before: though each birth is different, and each early postpartum experience is different, I have come to love all of my five children with a deeply felt, primal, sometimes painful love. For my first and third and fifth child it hit me like a truck the second I laid eyes on their newborn faces. For the other two it was a slow burn kind of love as we found our way to each other in the hazy days after birth.
Ever since that day when my youngest got lost, I have wondered why my protective feelings are so wild, why he is so precious. Is it simply because he is the youngest and the baby of the family? He does have a small elfin featured face, finely drawn and often vulnerable looking. He is small for his age, and although nearly three, not talking much, so he often seems younger than he is. And there is another reason for this: this child was seriously ill as a baby, spending 6 weeks on and off in hospital, and needing extensive care at home for many months afterwards.
As a result of his illness, his milestones were delayed and he literally was a ‘baby’ in need and skill level for months longer than usual. But what happened to me during his illness was a semi-permanent state of hyper awareness and vigilance – needed at that time – the warrior mother was called forth and the protective muscle was well exercised.
It is well known that whatever endeavour in which we invest the most effort is one that means the most to us. I sometimes think of my son this way- the child that I literally invested the most effort into- round the clock holding, caring, nurturing, and supporting on a long road back to health. No other child of mine enjoyed such extensive and focused one-on-one time, so long breastfeeding, so long sleeping in our bed.
My youngest is now a perfectly healthy three year old. There is really no need to overprotect him anymore. After weeks of pondering my reactions and actions around him, I can give thanks for that time he was lost. It has prompted me to realise that it is time to let go of my little one. The time for danger has passed and my inner warrior can now retreat. He may be my last baby, and that makes it all the more bittersweet. But I often think of motherhood as mostly an exercise in letting go, and the past few weeks have reminded me to take that little leap of faith again.