I wake up late as usual and realize I have 45 minutes to catch a cab to the airport for a business meeting. Luckily, my husband is getting breakfast for our two young boys, but just as I am about to launch into my morning routine I hear a blood curdling scream, followed by a defiant yell and garbled speech.
As I rush into the kitchen I see my two year old, who sounds as if he is in excruciating pain but is severely handicapped in his ability to express himself thanks to a cereal bar stuffed into his mouth.
Frantically, I look around for the source of his torment.
His older brother is nowhere nearby. There is no blood or other bodily fluid evident, nothing broken or spilled on the floor. His father stands by him dangling the Hershey syrup in his face, hopefully. After all, chocolate milk is his favorite. Joshua responds with a shriek.
Wiping the sleep from my eyes I try to remain calm in hopes that it will somehow soothe my baby boy. After all, by now, I am an experienced working mother and should be able to handle this situation. "What do you want?" I ask, ever so patiently, trying to ignore the time ticking by.
But my toddler is unaffected by my demeanor and unsympathetic to my futile attempts to balance the demands of home and career. He screams again as he struggles to convey his critical message: "I do it!"
Finally, the light bulb illuminates above my head. Of course he wants to do it; he’s 2 years old. I instruct his father to put the syrup back in the refrigerator. Joshua climbs down from his perch on the stool, struts confidently over to the refrigerator and pulls the brown bottle out. He hands the syrup to his relieved and befuddled father so he can prepare the morning nectar. Joshua sips the chocolate milk with the satisfied look of a caffeine addict enjoying his first cup of coffee.
His father and I stand, dazed and confused, yet aware that in this tiny moment something powerful has transpired. Joshua has taken yet another step away from the life of a helpless infant into the world of independence.
While intellectually I know we have a responsibility to nurture his autonomy and I take great pride in his accomplishments, emotionally I crave his dependency and delight in the ability to comfort him.
I prepare to resume my routine when Joshua suddenly looks up with his big brown eyes and his daddy’s broad smile. “Mommy carry you?” he asks sweetly. “Yes, I will carry you," I say.
As I feel his arms around my neck, his fat cheeks pressed against mine, my perspective is jolted into clarity. In that moment, I know that it would not be the end of the world to miss the plane -- I can reschedule the business meeting -- but these bittersweet moments with my family are irreplaceable, invaluable, and inexplicably enjoyable.
Paula Young Shelton is the mother of three boys, a first grade teacher at Georgetown Day School, and author of Child of the Civil Rights Movement. She lives with her husband and children in Washington, D.C.