What Colic Taught Me
As the weeks passed, I mastered the art of graceful helplessness. I now recognize this as a valuable parenting skill, one that I expect I will rely on often as Ezra grows. Someday, he will be a toddler awakened one night by a bad bellyache, an adolescent disturbed by the waywardness of his own body, an adult contemplating the most difficult of decisions. He will get hurt time and again as he makes his way. He will face challenges that try him to his very limits. This planet is waiting to bruise him.
I realized during those awful few months that it's not always possible to step in and erase the pain; I realized, too, that it isn't even necessarily desirable. Children, it turns out, are very resilient creatures. My guess is that creating a safe, consistent environment that allows them, whenever possible, to work things out for themselves, serves them much better in the long run. Psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott, author of Playing and Reality, called this kind of environment a "holding space": The child feels supported, but he has room to move, to test hypotheses, to explore, and to claim ownership of all his various efforts. Watching Ezra struggle so hard -- and then come through just fine, with a bright, broad smile on his face -- gave me the capacity to construct that holding space as we move forward, he and I, both of us negotiating uncertain terrain every day.
Ezra can't always hold the rattle just right; he can't always push himself up to sitting. Sometimes he crawls backward, and the ball he is so intent on grasping gets farther and farther away on the kitchen floor. But he keeps at it, and though my heart clenches with the frustration he feels, I do not go and get the ball for him. Instead, I cheer him on. With each small failure, his muscles are discovering new patterns; his brain is making new connections. Soon enough he will be scrambling across the floor, and what pride and satisfaction my little boy will know when, at last, he reaches that red ball and pounces.
Deb Abramson is the author of the memoir Shadow Girl. She lives in Vermont with her family.