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Mommy Hold You

Jenny Feldon

We were playing at a friend’s house yesterday. E was happily “microwaving burritos” in the play kitchen when out of the corner of her eye, she spotted me lifting Baby G, her pal’s new sister, into my arms. E froze, plastic ladle in hand, and I watched her face move in slow motion from happy, to furrowed-brow confused, to downright furious.

“Nooooooooooooo,” she cried, dropping pink kitchen utensils everywhere as she raced across the room. She slammed into my knees and tried, frantically, to scale my lower body (thwarted, of course, by the giant bump just over her head. “Mommy hold YOU! Mommy hold YOU!” I shifted Baby G to my knee and tried cradling E in my lap on the other side, but she wanted no part of it. “Mommy hold you HERE,” she wailed, pounding my chest with frustrated fists.

E’s grammar is actually pretty sophisticated for two-and-a-half. She frequently utters sentences up to twelve words in length, or says bizarre old-lady things like “I quite enjoyed this dinner” and “A trip to the park would be lovely.” She’s had her pronouns straight for months, with one lone exception: “Mommy hold you.”

She says this all the time. Quite possibly, E’s first coherent thought in infancy (before she was even old enough to roll over) was “Mommy hold you” She was a challenging, fussy baby that wanted to be in my arms all the time, day and night. No strollers, mechanical swings, or fuzzy vibrating chairs could fool her. It was me, or the pitiful wails and cries that ensued if I left her alone for a minute to do something selfish. Like brush my teeth. Or eat a bowl of cereal.

Babywearing saved my life. And probably hers. When E was three weeks  old, and I was exhausted, miserable, and desperate to use the bathroom without causing a nuclear meltdown, I tried out the ring sling I’d picked up before she was born. After some trial and error, we finally got it right, and E peeped out of her fabric nest, wide eyed and curious. And smiling. She nestled against my collarbone, practically purring in satisfaction.

 I wanted to set off fireworks, march in a parade, pop a bottle of champagne. I had two free hands. I could brush my teeth (as long as I was careful not to drip toothpaste on her head.) I could go grocery shopping. I could eat meals again (ditto ketchup, mustard and soy sauce.) I could have a life again. E, at less than a month old, had achieved her greatest goal without uttering a word: Mommy hold you.

So she was a sling baby. Everywhere, all the time. I coveted and collected slings like some women crave designer shoes. I never needed a stroller, never bothered lugging around the hideously awkward infant car seat. It was just E, her sling, and me. When she hit about six months, we switched to a soft front carrier, and our babywearing bliss continued well past her first birthday.

It shouldn’t surprise me, then, that “Mommy hold you” is still (grammatically incorrect, though I dread the day she changes it) her catchphrase. Or that watching another tiny human infiltrate her safe space on Mommy’s chest might be upsetting. But there’s another baby coming, another baby who I hope—no, NEED—to be a sling baby just the way E was. My two hands are more sacred than ever; I have E to take care of too. Forget brushing my own teeth and using the bathroom; I need to brush hers, help her on and off the potty, make her school lunches. And she’ll still need “Mommy hold you,” which I cherish almost as much as she does. But she needs to learn to share.

Yesterday’s meltdown did not bode well for the all-too-near future, when I plan to have an infant in a sling as many waking hours as possible. Not only did it make my life easier, but after researching babywearing and talking to other baby-slinging moms, I’ve come to believe in the parenting philosophy that comes along with it. In her sling, E got to see the world from an adult level, to watch our faces while we talked and laughed. Instead of the knee-level world view she would have had from her stroller, she got the full Technicolor tour, but from the safest spot possible—curled against my chest. I want the same for #2. If I can claim the tiniest bit of credit for the intuitive, curious, expressive person E is, I’d like to think all the hours of babywearing gave her a head start.

So how do I make the transition from “Mommy hold you” to “Mommy holds BOTH of you?” I’d been cautiously optimistic about her transition to big-sisterhood. She’s been getting exciting about helping Brother take baths and put on his pajamas. She’s been surprisingly mellow about the preparations in the nursery. But if I’m not allowed, in E’s world, to hold other people’s babies, what’s going to happen when one comes to our house to stay? Babywearing mamas and second time moms: How did you explain to your older child that the sacred spot in your arms (or on your chest) now needed to accommodate a party of two?

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