Don’t smother her, my mom always said. But really, what else is a six year old girl going to do when you give her a live baby doll? A live baby doll that she got to name? A way-gorgeous-adorable live baby doll? A live baby doll that was her first prayer, answered in God’s ah-mazing grace? Who just so happens to be your newborn little sister?
All I wanted to do was cuddle her, touch her, play with her, love her. Don’t smother her, my mom said. Be gentle. What my mom wanted me to be was tender. To touch gently and softly, to play carefully and nicely, to snuggle and let the little one breathe.
Tender. Soft. Gentle. Hard to balance with this heart flooded with excitement and joy. Hard to balance with this heart flooded with love and love and more love.
18 years later, I get it. People need to breathe. People need tender interaction, gentle love, special care . . . not pushing and prodding and constant-constant-constant.
And it’s hard, because admittedly, I’m a smother-er. A love-too-much-er. As I’ve grown, I’ve tried with all my might to be careful not to smother. Tried with all my might to be tender instead of pushy, tender instead of overwhelming, tender instead of way too much excitement.
And also as I’ve grown, I’ve sought balance:
tender and excited.
tender and interested.
tender and connected.
tender and full of love to share.
Tenderly loving, tenderly building relationships. Letting those I love breathe is part of letting them know that they are cherished, so tenderly cherished.
(Photo, top, taken by my mom: My sister at three and me at nine-and-a-half, learning not to smother her. Photo, bottom, taken by Maggie Rife: My sister at 17 and me at 24, still learning not to smother her.)