The last “thing” was boobs, mine in particular, but you weren’t picky, any boobs would do. Any shape any size, any age. If there was cleavage, your hand took aim. Society hadn’t explained that beautiful fleshy, warm inviting breasts, should not be fondled, cupped and pulled out for show. Little girls should instead focus attention on play-dough. So, on the bus, train, play-date or mother-in-law’s home, you would start to cuddle and I would cuddle, smiling. You would ask to sit on my lap, and I would pull you upon my knee, and you would run your little delicate hand up and down my cheek, turning your shoulder inward, laying a cheek against my chest. Your hand would fall down my hair, to keep warm under my shirt. The child development books explained this. You were being weaned from the breast and you needed this comfort. I would explain this to friends, to family, to the pensioner on the bus.
However, then came the day that you wanted to pull them out. And I took your little hand and I pulled it from my shirt and smiled and placed it on different things, such as play-dough. You stared and thought and stared some more. Not at me, but at my breasts, probably wishing they hung on you, but they didn’t. As I would bend down to talk or give directions or explain that little hand would dart in and out, carrying a boob as it left. I tried more deterrents with "rewards", "bribes" and then time outs were administered from arms length, of course, but you did not do as told, instead you broadened your search. Aunties, friends the nursery nurses, it was an exploration, and then it was Grandma and then you added sound effects and then I shrank into the sofa, curled, face in pillow.
When you were three before you understood how to act cool. You took off your clothes, I had just put on you, sat on the stairs, arms out, pushing out the word cuddle. Voice quiet, “Cuddle” and then again, “cuddle” and I sat next to you, pulled you against my robe and cuddled you. You pulled at the ties. Hand slipping through, I caught your hand, “No”. I looked you straight in the eyes and was assertive as said by Supernanny. “No, that is Mummy’s privates.” “Take off your robe, Mommy.” “No, Mommy is getting ready for work and you are getting ready for school." “Mommy, I want you to be naked like me." I stood up and looked down and said, “No. Mummy is getting ready for work." You grabbed my robe, “Please, Mummy. PLLLEEEAAASSSE.” I pulled your little fingers off the Terry cloth, pointed my finger at you and said, “No.” “Cuddle” You asked, again. “No, Mummy needs to get ready for work,” I turned away, leaving you.
When I was pregnant, I couldn’t wait for you to be born, to have you lay on my body and feel you take your first breath, have your first feed. When it happened, I was shaking. So much pain, exhausted, I hadn’t realised you were born, just saw the faces of those around me change and then felt your warmth the last lingering affect of my womb and I cried watching you grieve your loss, the blanket I wrapped around us could not secure the same comfort you had just been pulled from. Together, skin touching skin, we calmed and accepted this new realisation. We held each other and quieted, but that was not when you were three and that was not when I was late for work.
You fixate that is what you do and I placate, which is what I do, until I don’t. Until I redirect, direct, disturb what is natural in you. I do it with stickers, money, treats. It doesn’t work, nothing works until one moment a synapses dances with a receptor and you change, not a gradual change, the behaviour is forgotten, like a broken toy.
Today, I pulled you across the railroad tracks. I could feel your tiny little fingers, well, the tips of them, through your mittens. You whimpered, trying, unsuccessfully to pull away. “Come on, we’re doing it,” I declare . “We are just going to do it, and you just have to trust me. This has gone on far too long,” Words given with stressed inflections, pulled out to smother the other sounds. “No” you cried. “Pleeaaasssee, no”. Then again, higher in pitch, louder in volume. “NO, mother, please, NO!” Looking straight ahead with my long and determined strides, I responded, “You can’t keep going through the tunnel. All I heard was crying and I kept walking, first over one track and then over another, one hand pushing the pram that held your sister and one hand pulling you. I then turned to look at you, talk to you, tell you that it was safer crossing railway tracks than crossing the street, tell you that you could always trust me and I would never do anything to hurt you. I turned to tell you that there were only two tracks. Tell you that there was no way a foot could get trapped, but you were looking ahead, screeching like a balloon being deflated, lips quivering. Then, we were done. We were over the tracks, it was over. I turned to you, little one, and smiled, taking a big breath in, “There, done, feel better,” smiling smugly, chin up. You, silent, focusing on the horses’ field, mouth opened, cheeks with a slapped red glow. You walked towards the horses, no longer talking, no longer crying, just sniffling. This was not a joint conquest. I explained the point of the exercise. You made no acknowledgement, looking ahead, breathing in the cold, your little body shivered. I told you my rationale. You had to face your fear. It just had been going on far too long. And, you were late for school, which the other mother’s would see as they walked past me, and as the receptionist arched eyebrows would remind me of as I sign you in. How cold it felt outside today.