Mental health day for a 6-year-old?

This blog first appeared on the Detroit News website, www.detnews.com, on MAY 3, 2013.

Early one morning late last week, while the house was still quiet, my youngest son, Shaya, shuffled downstairs in a still-sleepy fog and climbed onto my lap. I was already at the computer, checking email, looking at my day to come, until he stopped me in the moment with his sleep-sour scent, his warmth from piles of covers and his tight hold around my neck in a hug that lasted forever.

My children used to do this every day, when I was a full-time freelance writer at my computer long before they rose for the day. They’d wake one by one and descend into the home office, wordlessly climbing onto my lap for early morning comfort.

Now the children are bigger and it’s getting cumbersome for most of them to climb onto my lap. Still, they try, but all the long legs and long arms and muscles developed from dance, soccer, and tennis and just being a kid make it slow and clunky.

I wouldn’t trade those hugs for anything. Starting my day with a child in my lap who only wants to know that I am there and we are connected.

Years ago, before I was married or a mother, I spent weekends in the foothills of the Shenandoah Mountains at my friend Peg’s farmhouse. The mother of six, Peg started her day with glee and enthusiasm when one of her youngsters meandered into the kitchen and announced, “Hi Mom!” as if the very presence of that child heralded the start of a wondrous day.

I remember wanting to be that kind of mother, the kind of mother who stopped sipping her steaming coffee to look full-on at her child and say, “Good morning, sweetheart!”

So I’m there. We’re all eager for down time and togetherness but there was still school to get off to. They shuffled into clothes. We made lunches, and breakfasts.

I shuttled them upstairs again for socks or shoes or teeth-brushing. I encouraged the movement of homework from the kitchen table to the backpacks. I called upstairs a few times too many, a little too loud.

We cleaned up from breakfast, filled the dishwasher, turned off the music.

As we were about to leave, Shaya shuffled over to me, fleece on, backpack dragged along, and leaned in for a very heavy hug. There were no smiles this time.

A mother knows what her children need. We adults take days off to regroup and recharge and think nothing of it. We don’t call into work to announce a mental health day but we call in sick knowing that’s what we’re taking, knowing we will be better for it, more productive, easier to deal with, the next day in.

I beckoned to my husband. “Do you think it’s OK if I let Shaya take a mental health day?” I asked.

He shrugged. “Do you have space for him at work?”

I always have space for my kids.

So I dangled the option like a carrot before my son. “You won’t spend all day on the iPad.”

“I’ll bring books and things to do,” he said, suddenly all alight.

I go to yoga on Fridays with my staff. He lit up even brighter upon hearing this, knowing he would join me for yoga.

And so I called into the attendance line, excusing my almost-7-year-old for the day. Although the recording says to leave the reason for his absence, I simply said that he would not be there today and left my number if they wanted to call with questions.

No harm. No foul. He would be better for a day of rest.

And so would I.

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