Someone to Hold On To

When did you first understand the meaning of love? For Life Lessons Essay Contest winner Mara Eve Robbins, that moment came unexpectedly, overwhelmingly, when one small gesture helped her cope with an enormous loss.


Photo by Julien Magre

I’d let you stay up too late. By the time you had brushed your teeth and gotten into your pajamas, your voice was mostly whine and you did not want to read any of the stories or hear any of the songs that usually calmed you down. My reserves were gone after a day out and about: crafts at the library; grocery shopping; a playdate with your friend, whom I did not know well enough to be anything other than awkward with her mother.

I still did not always communicate appropriately. Everyday questions—especially from people I did not know well—had no easy answers. They were land mines I had to either carefully avoid or choose to step on directly, risking explosions of sympathy or incomprehension. Keeping my voice as even as I could, I sat down on the edge of your bed and held your shoulders so that your eyes could meet mine.

“If you don’t want a story or a song, then you need to tell me what you do want. We both need to get some sleep, sweetheart.”

Your hand went up to your hair, twirling a ringlet into a tangle. After resisting for this long, your eyes were heavy and you were close to surrender. “I want to listen to the tape again, Mom. The one with the Ally Bally song on it. Could you make me some tea?”

Thank goodness. Typically, once you finally decided what you needed, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief. “Sure, honey. I’ll put the water on, and you find the tape?”

You nodded, heading over to the bookshelf where your tape player lived. I stood at the kitchen sink for a long time, water spilling over the kettle and splashing on my hand before I snapped back from wherever I had just gone.

Half the time I did not know where I was. Half the time I forgot what I was doing. You, my three-year-old daughter, were the only person who could keep me focused, who could remind me of what was real.

By the time I had gotten the kettle on the stove and put a bag of Sleepytime tea into your favorite mug (the one with the picture of you and your pal Maggie dancing in your bumblebee costumes on Halloween), I could hear music coming out of your room. “Good job!” I said, wiping my wet hands on my T-shirt. “You got it to play all by yourself!”