When my son was around seven months old, he contracted a fever. It wasn’t really very high, and his pedia told us it was probably brought on by a tooth making its way out. But he was grumpy, woozy and wanted to be in my arms all the time. It’s not easy holding a baby through a long night, it’s harder still when the long night follows a long day at work. But every time I tried to put him down on his crib, he would start crying like crazy. And every time I brought him closer to my chest, his tiny body would visibly relax. He would bury his little self as deep as he possibly could into my chest, as if finding in it an escape from the world.
Two thoughts occurred to me. First was absolute amazement that I — with all my imperfections, insecurities and uncertainties — was all this other human being needed at that moment, nothing more and nothing less. I was his safe place, his perfect home. Second was panic: that this moment will not last forever, that he will grow and be independent. And he will start finding his own way and needing things I cannot provide.
As I was rocking him gently, I found myself making him a promise. I call it the “Three S promise”. When he is sick, sad, or scared — any or all of those three — no matter how old he is, no matter where I am and what I’m doing, if he needs me to hold him, I will hold him. My arms will always be his home.
Whether he is three and scared of a thunderstorm, thirteen and down with a tummy ache, or thirty three and blindsided by life, as long as I am around and as long as he wants it, I will hold him. And he doesn’t need to explain if he doesn’t want to. No questions will be asked. No judgment will be made. He just has to say he is sick, sad or scared, and I will hold him as long as he needs to be held.
It will be our code word for a lifetime.