All grown up with children of my own, and still those feelings come upon me like a shock. I want somebody to run to, someone to hold me, to tell me it’s going to be okay.
My childhood wasn’t perfect. But certain memories of my past can flood me with longing. Those occasions when my parents’ reassuring words were a truth I could believe. A time when simple gestures of comfort and protection were enough to wipe away the fear and pain.
What I yearn for is to be little, small enough that the arms of my mother could wrap around me completely. To rest my head against her chest and hear her heartbeat, listen to its insistent, unrelenting rhythm, and know that I am safe. She would say, “Don’t worry. I am here. Nothing can hurt you now.”
I’m sure my mother believed what she told me. She knew, in those moments, that somehow she would make everything all right. I know she felt this way because it’s how I felt when my own children needed reassurance from me. When it was my turn to wrap my arms around a small human being and be his protector, I did so confidently. My instincts as a parent grew solid and infinite. No harm would come to my children, not as long as I held them close.
I have a husband whose arms are powerful and caring. Many occasions have found me cocooned within his embrace, hoping for that same reassurance. There are times when my arms try to enfold him, when he rests his head on my shoulder and I tell him, “It’s okay.” But we know. We know that isn’t always true. Yet the strong arms, the shoulder upon which to rest the head, the bodies melding, this physical expression of need and the desire to meet that need - all of it softens harsh reality.
My sons are older now, in their early twenties, and they are taller and stronger than I. I get to hug them on their birthdays and holidays, and once in a while I will ask for and receive an impromptu, loving though hesitant embrace. They are still my children, but they are no longer children, and we both know that parents are not omnipotent, and that sometimes it is not going to be okay.
In our book I wrote about learning that my mother’s cancer was terminal. I was sitting on her hospital bed, and she was lying there staring off into space. She looked terrified. Even though the doctors had just said, “No hope. There is nothing we can do,” in that moment I knew they were wrong. I leaned over, wrapped my arms around her and lifted her up into my embrace. I told her it would be okay. “I will find a way to make you well,” I said. I like to think that for a few seconds she, like I, believed my words.
You grow up and you learn that sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t. When I was a child, my mother’s touch and her words kept the peril at bay. I guess what I miss, really, is being able to believe that somehow everything, in the end, will always be all right.
~ Vicki Addesso