In the morning, on the way to school, this is His nudge for me: You need to touch your daughter.
So I reach over and take one of her hands in one of mine, steering the car with the other. Zoe doesn’t look at me, but she squeezes gently, running her thumb back and forth over the lines in the knuckle of my thumb. She does not let go, but holds on to my hand as she looks ahead into the bright, new sun. Her blonde hair looks radiant at the edges. She talks to me—sometimes so quickly she can hardly breathe; sometimes slowly, as she swallows tears; sometimes dreaming, with her eyes turned up—but she talks to me, and her voice fills the space between us.
My daughter still has a thousand shades, sometimes still so wildly young, sometimes older, and thoughtfully serious. But the greatest miracle of it all to me—this mothering another soul—is that I am someone she needs. I can never quite wrap my mind around it, that I should be so significant to her, me, with my introverted sighs and my jumbled up thoughts and my clear understanding of my own inadequacy. I am never quite “all together.” Even my fingernails look chronically uneven, and I hardly have time to fix my hair, and I rarely finish cleaning the kitchen right after breakfast. I often–so desperately often, like a breath–whisper thanks that I am a vessel well Held by a mighty, unlimited hand; that truly nothing is impossible for God. And so it astounds me still, in a ridiculous, awe-gripped way, that my children feel most comfortable by my side.
I tighten my grip on Zoe’s hand, the connection resting in her lap, remembering how just days ago she leaned into me, and I felt the bone of her nose pressing, and she murmured into my shirt, “I just need to spend some time with you. Just me and you. I just…I just need to talk to you,” and I suddenly realized that she was crying. So, I swept her closer to me and I whispered, “Okay. We’ll make time for just you and me,” and in my mind I saw all the times I used to sit with my own mom in the afternoons, drinking coffee, talking until my words clear covered her.
Zoe nodded into me, a quick assent and shuddering, digging her fingernails into my back, and I bit my lip and smoothed her hair with one hand.
“What’s wrong?” I asked her then, but she just shook her head.
“Oh, nothing. It’s not anything. I’m just tired. And I just need you.”
And so we stood there a while and I held her close to me, faintly remembering a time when the whole length of her fit into my arms. Something echoed back to me then, a bit of inspiration I had gathered some time ago from Ann Voskamp’s 10 Point Manifesto for Joyful Parenting (and you can print it from there too, and yours will be rumpled and tack-marked like mine): “Today, I will hug each of my children as many times as I serve them meals—because children’s hearts feed on touch. I’ll look for as many opportunities to touch my children today as possible—the taller they are, the more so.” Zoe is almost tall enough now to look directly into my eyes, and sometimes she’ll come stand beside me and tell me clear, “Mom, I need more hugs,” and I whisper thanks that it’s not left to a guess or my dull perception of things. The older she gets, the more it seems that she needs of me, the more I catch her trying to absorb, and maybe it’s the way that she sees this place now, with a little less pixie dust.
Every day I spend a few hours in the car, driving children where they need to be, sometimes making multiple trips to retrieve forgotten things. I make meals and carefully place pills and monitor blood sugars and insulin pods. I watch watch watch for signs of emergencies. I clean–probably not enough—but I clean and I wash and I fold and I insist on responsibility and chores and commitment. I pray God will not let me miss a teachable moment. I try so hard to build and plant and nurture, to create warmth and refuge, to love them all well. I serve—sometimes halting happy with a cup of morning coffee in my hand—gathering in Riley listening to her Bible because she understands better what she hears out loud and Zoe in the kitchen making herself a smoothie for breakfast and Adam’s groggy, blanket wrapped telling me “I love you too,” and I give thanks. It’s chaos, but it’s a grand chaos. It’s our chaos. Sometimes, though, in the time-chased middle, it’s easy for me to miss that touching my children isn’t a lightness.
It’s not in the list we mothers make when asked what we did in the course of the day. It’s all the pressing through we list, as though that gives the day its significance, not “I saw my children—not just looked but saw,” not “we talked and I really listened,” not “I hugged my children as many times as I served them meals,” with the hugging first, ahead of the meals, ahead of the carpool, ahead of the not enough hours in the day. It’s not that the other things aren’t important, but only that these other things, these love stopping us still things, are more to them. It makes me smile, the truth of it. I’ve never had a child come stand next to me and ask for more of anything else.
And it seems to me—seems, but more a knowledge written certain into me—that this longing for more of Him—more closeness; more time; more talking—just you and me talking; more “I just need you,” with our fingernails digging into His back and the bone of our noses pressing into His chest—this is what God really wants His loving children to seek first, to prioritize, to treasure. But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:33). Instead, we tend to ask for more of His working for us, for more of “all these things.” And it’s not that these things aren’t important, but that the other should be more to us.
So, you need to touch your daughter, He says to me, and I reach across the seat, gathering her hand in my own. She holds my hand all the way to school, rubbing my thumb. I vow, feeling the still-young softness of her fingers, to reach for her more–to reach for them more–and to consider it one of the best ways God lives and works in me. And so, in just that way, God uses her to teach me to love Him the same clinging, vulnerable way that she loves me.