I want to write today about deference. This word has been fluttering around in my head since yesterday afternoon, when I was driving down Main Street to pick up my girls. Road conditions were wintry – cars sliding, pedestrians slogging (although around here you also see people heading to work on skis and snowshoes).
Out of the blue, a series of emergency vehicles screamed by, heading up the hill. There maybe six in all. A minute, maybe less, passed between each one – this is when we’d start driving again. But then another would appear from around the corner, lights flashing, siren wailing, and we’d all dutifully put on our blinkers and pull over to the side.
I’m not quite sure why I love this moment so, this deference to emergency vehicles. Is it just that it feels good to do what’s right – and this is such an easy case of that? Is it the sense of unity and shared understanding it evokes with other drivers; that 9/11 feeling of we’re all in this together? Is it the humbling fact that somewhere else, there is an emergency – a fire, an injury, an accident, a crisis, and that the least you can do sitting in your car is to make way for the help to arrive quickly?
There is something moving about having no choice but to pull over and make room for something more important – yes, more important! – than us getting to our destinations as quickly as possible. But what I’m realizing as I write is that this has everything to do with Aviva’s neediness these past several days and nights. If she is the emergency vehicle – lights flashing, siren crying – then I have been that stubborn driver who resists pulling over, who waits until the absolute last possible moment to put myself second. Except in our case, she doesn’t want to pass me. No, she wants to land in my lap, in my arms, right back in my belly it seems.
After several difficult bedtimes, last night I finally gave up, gave in, gave over. In deference to her emergency, I stayed. In deference to her cold, I sat by her side and stroked her hair. In deference to her vulnerability, I whispered sweet nothings and closed my own eyes, ridiculously wondering if this could count as my meditation time for the day. In deference to her neediness and her unafraid-ness to ask for what she needs, to demand it even, I slowed down to a stop. In deference to everything that’s sacred in that moment, I got it. And when I did, I felt her relax. Knowing I was there was all she needed. It still took her a while to let go, but eventually her eyelids became too heavy to hold open and she was asleep.
Deference. When I put it this way, it sounds so easy, so lovely, doesn’t it? But it has been a struggle for me this week, this giving over to something more important than me and my timing (now, an hour ago, etc.) and my destination (downstairs, the dishes, the lunches, the email, the husband, the evening), my wants and needs, my ego screaming out for her to GO TO SLEEP and LET ME GO, throwing an emergency fit all of its own.
In a way, it was easy. Well, kind of. Pulling over instead of pulling away, pushing hands instead of pushing back. And like anything, it will take more practice.
It goes without saying that everything was waiting for me when I came down after that: the dishes, the lunches, the email, the husband, the rest of the evening. The difference was that Aviva was sleeping peacefully instead of crying for me, and I was feeling humbled, having made room for her, having responded to her siren call. As I told Greg later in our own bed (which Aviva would crawl into not long after), I want to be the mother I remember my mother being – right there, sitting on the edge of the bed while I drifted off, slowly, into an ocean of safety.