“You’re His North Star”

“You’re his north star.”

Four words have never summed up this stage of  parenting  as well as what my  brother  told me in Puerto Vallarta this past  week on our  annual family vacation. My brother — a  newlywed and kid-lover, but not  a  parent  himself yet — was  able to pinpoint exactly how Ben  feels  about me — MAMA — with just  those four words.

… And he’s  an “outsider” looking in!

For months now I’ve  been struggling with this  needy “I-only-want-mommy” stage (which often lasts from 15-18 months, depending  on the child)  and this vacation  was  particularly challenging.

In spite of our idyllic, breezy,  beautiful Pacific paradise beachscape … I had  the world’s clingiest  toddler in tow. Sure, he’d go  to everyone in my  family — would even  put  his  arms out   and  ask for  them by name —  but  then within  a  few minutes  he’d  realize he can’t see me  …  and  his little built-in  “where’s mama”  honing  device alarm would sound shrill. He needed  to know  where  his  “north star” was: his  constant ... me.

And then when he found  me … it  was  game over.  He wouldn’t  calm down  unless in my  arms. Redirecting, removing him  from the situation, singing, Tylenol  for potential teeth coming  in … nothing worked. He wouldn’t even  find  comfort  in Luis … only me. Unfortunately, I was  battling  my  sixth sinus infection in as  many months and feeling quite miserable — so it was really  tough at times. [Note: had we been  home and  not at a resort, I would  have let him cry more and not  coddled  so much but I  also  didn’t want to  ruin  every  vacationer’s  trip … and  so I sucked  it  up].

But once my brother reframed this challenging clingy stage for me with the north star analogy, it’s like a light bulb went  off in me. I softened. Suddenly the  nuisance  of being his one  and only felt like a gift (he won’t want me  forever). Instead of  fighting  him, I soothed his  thrashing arms  and legs and held him tight (he won’t want to  be in  my arms  forever).  And  it  worked. After I was  able  to view his  behavior  through the “north star” lens, I was less agitated  and  less anxious about how he’d  behave … and he actually   seemed “better.”

And by the next  day (our  last  day in PV), he was a different  kid,  walking around our  hotel room asking “Where Matt? Where  Pop? Where Lala? Where KaKa? Where Bamma?” and less clingy than he had been all week. In fact, that morning my dad came to our  room to  take  the kids  to the beach to  play in the sand before  breakfast. Ben looked at me, waved and said “bye bye mama” as he  reached  up and grabbed  my dad’s hand … leaving me standing  speechless  in the  doorway. When  I  came   down  an hour later,  he was sitting in a high chair happily munching on / throwing Zucaritas (Frosted Flakes) with my parents, no big deal. Of course, once  he  saw me he  did  get  a bit clingy … but  it  wasn’t immediate, as  before.

I’m not  sharing this  to imply my reframing made Ben’s behavior  change; for all I  know he had had been cutting a  tooth or   something and was just  feeling better! He’s  a toddler  and toddlers struggle with separation anxiety. BUT changing  how I viewed the  situation surely helped me  cope  better with his clinginess … and that’s  worth noting.

Also worth  noting: this  is  not  the first time four words  spoken from my  brother  have  made  a  lasting  impact. During  my  recovery (2009), it was his ask that got me to stop  chewing  and spitting … more than  a  year of cognitive  behavioral therapy  did less! He asked me how I felt when I chewed and spit;  did I  feel pride or guilt. And naturally I said I felt guilty. “So then choose pride over  guilt every time.”

And  so that became  my mantra: choose pride  over  guilt.  I have done that every day since March 2009. It hasn’t always been easy, but I’m proud  to  say I’ve  been  fully recovered now for six years.

So  thank  you to my “little bro” for your  wise-beyond-your-years counsel and for such great analogies  and words that  really  drive a  message home and helped  make one stressed-out  mama  feel  calm   and sane, if  but  for  a  bit.

At  our  excursion one day to private beach called  Las Caletas, the tour photographer  snapped  this sweet  pic (one of several I am ordering including one of Maya petting a giant  snake  and me, Luis and Maya  sea  kayaking!). <3.

bennymama

It  isn’t  always easy being needed   24/7 … but I Iove being his north star and am going to cherish  this stage,  with all  its   challenges and drama. After  all, pretty  soon, he’ll want  nothing   to  do with  me.

But for now? For now I’m MAMA. And I’m his world.

And there’s nothing  better.

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