exhausted from layovers and daylong conferences and being around strangers who don’t run to hugs, your son will be somewhat apathetic. He will smile and say Mama and kiss you when you ask for it. He will adore the plane you purchased for him at the airport gift shop, which makes “real” plane sounds that cause your head to throb even more, and he will hug that loud piece of plastic far tighter than he hugged you. And you think, maybe he doesn’t really know how to miss you yet. Maybe, he hasn’t mastered longing. You, on the other hand, are an expert. Thinking each night away from him, of his small sleeping frame, and how much you wish you’d been the one to see him close his eyes. How much you are always missing him when you’re away, longing for him. And how much—or how little—he takes notice.
Then, that evening, at dinner, he will refuse the high chair and want to sit on your lap and hold your neck as though it were that of the toy airplane. He will press his head into yours and say, “I doo doo, I doo doo” like a broken record that for you, is working perfectly—the words his way of uttering “ya tebya lyublyu,” the Russian for “I love you.” And you’ll be reminded, you are loved, you are missed, and yes, yes, he does know longing.
And later still, when he refuses to stop running away—always running, always away, always at the speed of light and sound and weather, through water and rock and sand, always flying across any surface—and you have to grab him before the intersection, he will bite down onto the crook of your arm so hard, so animal, that the imprints of his teeth will swell at first, then leave behind small bruises. And you’ll remind yourself he doesn’t mean it, that this is longing too. That his love for you and his love for freedom from you, are one and the same. And when you pass your finger along his teeth prints the next day, and feel a pain that reaches far below the skin, you’ll know this is how he loves too. Deeply, below the surface, and sometimes, felt by no one but himself.
That night, he will wake screaming and crying out for you, and his tears will make you happy, admit it. He will want to be in your bed and in the crook of that same sore arm. He will want his head to sleep on top of yours, his mouth drooling into your cheek, his sweaty hair tangling with yours. He will long for you as hard as he had bitten, as hard as he had hugged, as hard as you convince yourself he must have missed you. And even if he didn’t, his longing is what you need to help you sleep. His longing, is what you need to believe in. So even if he runs, when he runs—always ferociously far away, always ecstatic as first rain at the freedom and distance, and always as unpredictable as water—you need to believe in his longing to return to your arms.