One evening when my son was about 8 months old and I had not yet weaned him, my husband and I left him with a sitter so that we could take in a ballet. By the end of the performance, my throbbing breasts were signaling that I'd been away from the baby long enough. When we walked into our living room, the cheerful young sitter was holding him by the hands as he stood, his fat legs wobbly, on her lap. In the moment before he saw me, his expression was one of careful determination, as if he knew he'd had one too many, but that he could stand on this lap without falling over, dammit, if he just tried hard enough. When his eyes met mine, though, he burst into a brilliant, drooly grin, leaning toward me and bouncing crazily in his excitement. I picked him up. He clutched my neck and started snuffling around in my blouse. As I settled on the couch to nurse him, I felt absolutely whole and complete, the way I'd felt during my pregnancy. It is this powerful, primitive, empathetic connection, this merging, this heady blend of joy, satisfaction, and easy competence that is also the deep grief of motherhood. Because to raise a child successfully, you have to let him go.
As a new parent, I was ambushed by the intensity of the attachment; I had no idea how my feelings would evolve over the course of my son's childhood, from his early loud and stubborn stirrings for independence to his current status as a 20-year-old college student and world traveler. The first time a sitter took him out in the stroller, I stood at the window, my face pressed to the glass, waiting for her to round the corner on their return. The idea of my son's ever crossing a busy city street alone? You might as well have said that he'd be walking on the moon. Tentatively, I shared a confession with one of my mother-friends: "I know I'm not supposed to," I said, "but I love my baby more than I love my husband." "What can you do?" she said. "Me, too."