A few months ago, we went to a super fun birthday party for a friend of ours who turned 6.
It was a house full of a ton of friends, delicious food, and wonderful toys for imaginative play. So, I feel like an idiot saying it, but it looked like fun to me–I never thought that William would get overwhelmed to the point of tears.
But he did. I was talking with a group of ladies and munching a sandwich, and next thing I knew, there was William standing behind me, biting his thumbnail and looking downward, with tears rolling down his cheeks. No sound.
I instinctively set my plate down and scurried him upstairs immediately. “I’m so sorry, buddy,” I kept saying all the way up the stairs. I should’ve known. Why did I not think of this? Was I so involved in my own social life that I couldn’t spare a single minute to prepare my child for the noise of an average (if not really cool) birthday party?
I dodged into the first bedroom in the hallway and sat on the bed with him on my lap.
“Oh William! Are you okay? I’m so sorry.”
“I want to cuddle, please.”
William is not aversive to touch, thank God. And uniquely, he’s not even one of the fairly common spectrum kids who seek out touch for a heavy-handed sensation. He much prefers light, almost tickly touches.
So he buried his face in my shoulder and I rocked him, side to side.
I was so hungry. I grumbled to myself that someone was probably going to throw away my food. Why didn’t I just bring it with me?
I eyed the Legos on the floor. “Do you want to play with Legos?” I asked, thinking I could run downstairs to grab my plate if he were interested in a project.
“No,” he said, and ugga-mugga’d me.
“Are you sure? Maybe you want me to go get you some food?”
“No. Want cuddles.”
I looked at him. Gosh, he’s beautiful. That porcelain skin. His eyelashes curling up into his eyebrows, capping those gorgeous brown eyes. And how those eyes looked at me, like he was memorizing me. I thought about how fortunate I am that he doesn’t run screaming from me when I touch the top of his head or kiss his cheek.
Stop it with the sandwich, Maura, I said to myself.
“William,” I said to him, “let’s just stay up here as long as you like, okay?”
He smiled and put his forehead on my forehead, his nose on my nose. And he chuckled in spite of himself, because he thought that was a pretty funny thing to do.
I laughed out loud, because it was.
And in that moment, I experienced something completely new. I was hungry, but didn’t care about my half-eaten lunch downstairs. I missed my friends, but was perfectly happy to be making Cyclops faces at my son alone upstairs.
I’m not very good at being present, especially when there’s something nearby to distract me (and there always is). This was the first time that I’ve ever been genuinely happy and satisfied in the moment, and it wasn’t because I had no other compelling choices.
It was because my son, wholly and completely, won me over.
In the end, we didn’t stay upstairs very long. A throng of kids 6 and under streamed into the room shouting, jumping, and noisily clattering Legos around. So I said, “Do you want to go downstairs?” and he said, “yes,” and promptly jumped off my lap.
But that’s how it goes in life. We don’t want to shut the world out and be present because of all the things we might miss. But we look back and realize we missed the one thing that was truly important.
That might be the first time I didn’t.