by Sandra Bark
Maya is seven years old, and she has been my friend for seven years. Over that period, we have done many fun things together: Brunches! Museums! Somersaults! These days, she is a bright, thoughtful girl who steps easily into the spotlight; back when she was a toddler, she already knew how to command attention.
When Maya was two, she liked to be held. We all like that, don’t we? Babies, adults and Mister Mies, my friend’s black cat: everybody wants someone to hold them. Children and cats are a lot better about asking for that kind of attention than adults are, as it turns out. We all need to be held, but we don’t always know how to achieve the holding.
When children ask to be cuddled, they are generally indulged. Occasionally, it is inconvenient. Timing is off, or we are too busy, or too stressed, or too many people need us for other things.
“Hold me,” they say, anyways. “Hold me. Hold me!”
And sometimes we say, “I’m sorry, sweetie. I can’t hold you right now.”
Maya understood this, and whether it was instinctual, tactical, or the most amazing verbal glitch ever, she never asked if you could hold her. Instead, she would sidle over to you sweetly, lift those little arms and say, “Hold you?”
“Hold you?” worked every time. Not just because she was cute, and not just because she was only two. Because she wasn’t asking for something. She was offering something. And by offering instead of demanding, she got exactly what she wanted.
Really, who has the power to say, “No, I’m sorry, honey. I just don’t have time to be held.”
So when we reach our arms out, to children, to partners, to friends, to lovers, what are we communicating? Are we saying: Stop what you’re doing. Pay attention to me. Give me what I need. Hold me!
Or are we saying: Stop. Put down your bags. Put down your day. Put down your sorrows. Now, I will hold you.