I listened as someone at church read the story of 12-year-old Jesus spending several days at the Temple before His parents found Him. As I listened, I could imagine the sick worry in Mary's heart as she and Joseph retraced their steps, desperate for any word of Him. I could see Mary's probing glance into every corner, images blurred by her panic. I could feel her finally breathe again when she saw her son at the front of a crowded room. Maybe she yelled at first. "How could You? Don't You ever do that again!"
But then surely she sobbed in relief and held Him. If their reunion was full of hugs and kisses, though, Luke skipped over that part. But he did consider something worth mentioning: "His mother treasured all these things in her heart" (Luke 2:51).
When my son, Gavin, not even 4 yet, refused to enter my open arms this morning, the memory of Luke's words triggered a small revelation: I am growing into my role as a holder who does more than hug. I am holding-"treasuring"-Gavin's developing view of life and love.
My mom, not much of a hugger, is impressed with my displays of affection with Gavin, as if I have invented a novel way to love my child. But perhaps my frequent embraces have been too much of a good thing. Lately Gavin is likely to turn his cheek away, and he expertly ducks my encircling arms. Only recently have I admitted that sometimes my physical enclosures are not what he needs. They are what I need. I am trying to hang on to the skin-on-skin bliss of new motherhood. I still bask in the smell of his hair, even the smell of his sweat. But he is too busy to bask. He is exploring his world, and sometimes my hugs are unwelcome fences.
Gavin goes off running and jumping, seeking and finding, but counts on returning to me for a "refill"-a reliable dose of love and comfort. He turns to face me and reminisces over his short life: "Remember when I had no hair? Remember when we saw the waterfall? Remember when I dropped my compass down the drain? Remember Christmas?" If life is a game of tag, I am home base.
This has got me thinking about my mother's lack of regular hugs and the other ways that she shows her love instead. Mom stores a lot in her heart and on her kitchen table. There is always a bag full of magazine clippings-articles about my writing colleagues or my husband's job or tips for dealing with unruly preschoolers. Although she despises it, she brews decaffeinated coffee when I visit. We go through the bag of her latest offerings, all the while chatting about the constant challenges of work and motherhood. She keeps tabs on my happiness as well as my struggles. She assures me that she is praying for me.
Inevitably our talks move from the present to the past. She reminds me of phases I went through-best friends, favorite pets, boyfriends who fell in or out of favor. She looks back into her archives on me (old journals)-"On this day in 1999 you were just moving into your new place." These reunions with my less-experienced, younger self are something that only Mom can provide. Even though Mom's hugs are rare, I still feel held from these visits.
Kept in the heart
I pictured Jesus and Mary again today, except this time with Jesus as an adult. Mary gazed fondly at Jesus as He was about to start another long journey on foot. "Remember that time you hid out in the Temple and I was so worried? We knew even then that there was something special about You."
I saw Jesus hugging His mom firmly. Then they exchanged the sentiment I hold in my heart as I kiss Gavin goodbye. "Go in peace. You remain in my heart."
Katherine Hauswirth has written creative nonfiction for nine years. She has authored numerous magazine articles and the book Things My Mother Told Me: Reflections on Parenthood. Katherine's blog is called "Inching Toward Simplicity: Pragmatics and Prose."