When infants are embraced by their parents, their heart rates drop almost immediately, according to a recent study.
As a parent, it’s strange and amazing to think that you are a little person’s safe haven. When I’m putting Toby to sleep, and he’s cuddled in my arms, I sometimes think, But I’m just a random person! What do I know? But to this little person, you are the definition of all things safe and true, a touchstone and true north.
This idea reminds me of a touching passage in Operating Instructions, Anne Lamott’s memoir about her son’s first year:
“I have a friend named Anne, this woman I’ve known my entire life, who took her two-year-old up to Tahoe during the summer. They were staying in a rented condominium by the lake. And of course, it’s such a hotbed of gambling that all the rooms are equipped with these curtains and shades that block out every speck of light so you can stay up all night in the casinos and then sleep all morning. One afternoon she put the baby to bed in his playpen in one of these rooms, in the pitch-dark, and went to do some work. A few minutes later, she heard her baby knocking on the door from inside the room, and she got up, knowing he’d crawled out of his playpen. She went to put him down again, but when she got to the door, she found he’d locked it. He had somehow managed to push in the little button on the doorknob. So he was calling to her, “Mommy, Mommy,” and she was saying to him, “Jiggle the doorknob, darling,” and of course he didn’t speak much English—mostly he seemed to speak Urdu. After a moment, it became clear to him that his mother couldn’t open the door, and the panic set in. He began sobbing. So my friend ran around like crazy trying everything possible, like trying to get the front door key to work, calling the rental agency where she left a message on the machine, calling the manager of the condominium where she left another message, and running back to check in with her son every minute or so. And there he was in the dark, this terrified little child. Finally she did the only thing she could, which was to slide her fingers underneath the door, where there was a one-inch space. She kept telling him over and over to bend down and find her fingers. Finally somehow he did. So they stayed like that for a really long time, on the floor, him holding onto her fingers in the dark. He stopped crying. She kept wanting to go call the fire department or something, but she felt that contact was the most important thing. She started saying, “Why don’t you lie down, darling, and take a little nap on the floor?” and he was obviously like, “Yeah, right, Mom, that’s a great idea, I’m feeling so nice and relaxed.” So she kept saying, “Open the door now,” and every so often he’d jiggle the knob, and eventually, after maybe half an hour, it popped open.”
Doesn’t that make you want to weep? That a mother’s fingers could be enough to make a child feel safe and protected. It’s so heartbreaking and beautiful.