I was at the OBGYN for my annual checkup earlier this week and I have to admit that seeing all of the pregnant women in the waiting room left me very relieved I’m on the other end of things. That last trimester — especially the two weeks leading up to my due date — was brutal. (To all mamas-to-be sitting in that boat: I see you and I feel you and I’m not going to tell you it will be over in a flash, which is not especially what I wanted to hear when every day moved like molasses. I’m simply going to tell you that it’s really hard and that you’re a tough cookie.) I kept wanting to extend knowing smiles to those women but realized I might seem creepy, as they would have no idea how recently I had been in their shoes!
At any rate — at one point, an expecting mother came waddling through the door, huffing and puffing, and then eased herself into a chair. Her mother was at her heels and went to check her daughter in at the reception desk and then returned to her daughter’s side. I could tell the pregnant daughter was in pain or discomfort — possibly contractions? — because her face bore something like determination and grit and she kept staring intensely at the floor as her mother attempted to distract her with casual conversation. Something about what to order for lunch, and how many people would be at Thanksgiving, and whether she’d gotten back to Brad yet on the plans for next weekend? All the while, the daughter was offering one-word answers, grimacing. And the mother was prattling away but I could read the solicitude all over her face as she wordlessly and without prompt helped her daughter out of her coat, mid-sentence, almost reflexively, as if she were divesting her own coat. And then she would pat her daughter’s knee from time to time, and I’d read the anxiety on her face in a flash, and then she’d pause and search for new, light topic to broach. Nail color, at one point.
A few minutes into their wait, the daughter stood up quickly — “I have to throw up!” — she whispered and walked down the hall. Her mother jumped up and looked around helplessly, taking a step forward as if to follow her daughter, and then pausing.
“I’ll watch your coats and bags –” offered the receptionist.
“Oh. I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about my daughter.” And then she fled down the hall after her.
There was something about this entire exchange that moved me — especially the mother’s earnest attempts to distract and calm her daughter despite the fact that both were very clearly on edge.
What startled me was that I related to both of the figures in this exchange, remembering in an instant when my mother stood at my bedside before I walked into the OR for my epidural before mini was born, and I was sobbing, and she took my hand in hers and cocked her head and said: “Now Jennifer. It’s going to be fine. You’re going to be fine. Let’s meet this little girl!” And then she proceeded to make a light-hearted comment about the nurse’s hair and smooth down my sheet and distract me with other little nothings. How I needed her to do that! And how good my mother is at conjuring conversation in the face of adversity, when I am more likely to just stare in overwhelmed silence, chin wobbling, anxiety swelling.
But how often I, too, smooth things over by way of distraction with mini nowadays. I can see a meltdown brewing five minutes before it hits. And so I sing a song with strange bravado that leaves her doubled over in laughter or suggest she help me fold the laundry (!!! didn’t you know it is SO exciting?!) or pull out the duplos and start to build something. And when we’re mid-tantrum, and all of my other ploys (namely, ignoring her) have failed, how I will engage in silly slapstick humor to stop her in her tracks, occasionally imperiling my own wellbeing by, say, walking into a wall or “bumping” my head.
There is something peculiarly heart-warming to me about a mother distracting her child. Turning her toddler’s head away from an incoming vaccine. Jiggling her baby on her hip or finding his favorite toy when he is sleepy or hungry or teething. Quieting her grown daughter’s nerves when she is facing the tremendous unknown of labor, delivery, and parenthood writ large. It is almost like saying: “Here, let me look that scary thing in the face for you while I divert your attention over here.” Put differently: “Let me bear this burden for you. Let me walk this mile with you, or for you, or in some way lighten the load for you.”
There are many venues in this life where distraction is a bad thing. No one wants to engage in conversation with a distracted friend. Mr. Magpie and I scold one another when we are using more than one screen at a time — because how are we possibly engaging in any material fashion with one medium when we are half-distracted by a second? (Or third?) I hate when I am preoccupied as a parent, too — puzzling over dinner plans or lost in my own thoughts and to-dos and I suddenly realize I have been mindlessly chatting with mini, who is attempting to communicate something to me with a measure of toddler urgency. “No mama, the CHAIR! THE CHAIR!” And I’ll snap out of it and realize that the chair she is sitting in is off-kilter, one leg up on a stack of books and about to topple over.
And, more generally, it not uncommon that I need to stop and look at something head-on rather than dart around it, avoiding eye contact.
In so many of those instances, distraction is unwelcome, unwholesome, abrasive to the more important fibers of life and wellbeing.
But in this other realm — the realm of parenting from the heart — it is a gesture of love, a generous bulwark against threats large and small, both balm and aegis, offered humbly and without fanfare.
And mom, in case I forgot to tell you, thank you for the gift of small distractions.
+Obsessed with these table linens.
+Love this upholstered bench!
+NYE plans?! Check this out!!!
+Into this tweed jacket.
+Swooning over this romper for a baby girl.
+Ordered this vest for mini.