The clock strikes 5:30. Sigh of relief: the finish line is just around the corner. My husband should be descending the steps of his office building, opening the entry door, and walking to his car. He will soon drive home and bring a long awaited release. I picture his arrival like a slow-motion movie, one that arouses anticipation.
I’m ready to hide.
Three-year-old Evelyn stands on a chair pretending she’s my hairdresser. She not so gently brushes and combs while her one-year-old brother eagerly makes his way across the creaky floors. When the door opens, he hopes to soar above his daddy’s head after being scooped up in an embrace. Seven, eight, nine minutes pass. The door handle begins to jiggle and turn. The man of the house enters, smiling, straight into a puddle of gratitude.
Quickly waving hello, I welcome a break.
A bedroom retreat awaits. Entering the dark room and gently shutting the door separates me from the expectations, the questions, and, most of all, the touch from the children on the other side. The white comforter becomes a cocoon. My body is mine for the next few minutes, and I feel free. No more being climbed up like a tree. No more hair twirled around sticky fingers. No more elbows digging in with each change of position.
Of all the adjustments mothers face, the constant touching and sharing of personal space has been the most difficult for me. It’s an adjustment to trade novels, hot tea, and yoga meditation for pop-up books, cold tea, and all-day clinging.
Each morning starts strong, with loving interactions, lots of cuddles, and traded kisses. Somehow both children and a dog or two fit on my lap, eager to hear their requested books read and songs sung. But as the day goes on and naps come and go, I begin to feel suffocated. To restore, out rolls the yoga mat for my legs and arms to stretch into child’s pose. In a matter of seconds, though, my neck feels Evelyn’s breath as she asks to join and share, yet again, in my space.
Evelyn requires a large amount of physical touch. On a scale of loving or hating physical touch, the two of us sit at opposite ends. It takes a while for me to willingly offer hugs to others, while she embraces strangers if they let her. In fact, my husband and I often joke that our daughter will want us to carry her around forever because she has such a strong desire for close contact. Because of her need to feel physically connected, I have started thinking of her as a helicopter child—a little hoverer.
This little hoverer is active wherever she goes. On a recent visit to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, there were groups of vacant chairs. But Evelyn chose to sit next to an older gentleman who clearly did not desire her affection. He had already moved away from his son once empty chairs became available, probably so he could be alone. But she didn’t let that happen, figuring he needed her company.
For me, a comfortable environment means two or three empty seats on both sides of me. Instead, my helicopter child finds the people nearest to her and joins them in their world.
Later that day, this sweet girl sat in a restaurant’s waiting area next to a teenage boy. She leaned on his shoulder trying to look at the pictures on his phone. He clearly was not interested in going through pictures together, but she didn’t catch on to his sighing.
During these moments that perplex me, I often reflect on her life before we were finally together as a family—a life in her birth country where she was alone and isolated, longing for the tender touch of her unknown family across the ocean. Those beginning moments of her adoption story often prompt my tears, as it offers a reminder that she needs to feel loved. And for her, love is connection, closeness, affection.
Being a mother is about finding a loving compromise. Recently, my mom reminded me of her compromise to honor our own relational differences. As I grew up, she struggled to understand my needs. As I communicated to her the ways I felt loved, she worked harder.
I am an external processor and want to talk about everything, often calling Mom to share unnecessary details and sometimes meaningless stories. She doesn’t share. I know it drains her to be the sounding board for my rhetorical release. But she still listens.
My mother has shown me how relationships thrive when we understand differences. There is nothing wrong with Evelyn’s need to hover and touch, just as there is nothing wrong with my need to talk—or to crawl into bed for a few minutes to recharge and recognize my body as my own.
Honoring one another is important in a relationship. My mother honors me by not hitting the ignore button when her phone rings for the tenth time in a single day and by staying on the phone even when she doesn’t personally gain from my storytelling. And I choose to honor Evelyn’s hovering by welcoming her into my personal space, offering cuddle time and a lingering embrace.
Sometimes love is shown in different ways. I could sit and listen to Evelyn talk for hours. But I take a step back and remember that my hoverer needs touch— touch that stretches back in time to make up for a beginning of loneliness and pain.
Still, I can’t help but keep looking forward to the short times of rest, getting lost in a book or meditating in silence. It takes energy to give an affectionate daughter the physical love she needs, and those hair-twirling fingers and clingy long legs won’t do that forever. Or maybe they will. Either way, my world became hers the first time her small, fragile body clung to mine—solidifying our relationship as mother and daughter.
For as long as needed, we can share a world. I will let her hover.