The Virgin and Child with St. Anne: Leonardo da Vinci The Virgin and Child with St. Anne: Leonardo da Vinci

“I need lap! I need lap!”

My toddler whines at my knees, knocking his book into my shins in the hopes he can convince me to sit down and read. I’m sweeping the floor and washing the counter and grabbing the phone and watching the pots on the stove with a careful eye towards dinner.

But he doesn’t see any of that. He sees a lap waiting to happen.

My lap is a world of storytelling, singing, soothing and snuggling. Here is where one big boy still nestles to pull on his socks and one little boy still nuzzles in for naptime nursing.

Two legs cross and one just-right nest is born, the perfect space to wriggle in, to stay and remember the certainty of mama’s love wrapped all around. My lap is a standing invitation waiting to be filled if ever it finds itself open, like a cozy corner table at the trendiest bistro.

My kids lunge for my lap, love to fall into it giggling and grabbing at my neck, the koala cling of children still unspoiled by the thought they should temper wild affection for those they love most. They crawl in, clamoring for my attention, staking their claim like homesteaders, climbing up my shins and over my knees with driven determination.

Their limbs plop into my waiting lap, whether the bony squirm of a preschooler or the diapered bubble of a toddler, bottom-heavy as he teeters. Their presence slows me down, pinning me to the place where I am, forcing me to wait, to pay attention, to focus my multi-tasking mind undividedly for now.

I remember when I first read the book of Ruth and noticed the line at the end about Naomi taking her daughter-in-law’s child on her lap to claim him as part of her family. I pictured the painting by Leonardo da Vinci where Mary pulls Jesus onto her lap while she is perched on her own mother’s knees, the kindly matriarch St. Anne looking on with a smile at her grandson and daughter. Generations join together like this.

Footnotes to Ruth’s story told me the tradition of taking on child on the lap was an ancient one, practiced by fathers who held the power to determine whether a newborn would be claimed as legitimate. Yet today it can become nothing more than a mindless gesture, an everyday action for those of us with littles underfoot.

Until we remember how much meaning the practice of scooping up a small one into an open lap still holds.

Taking a child upon your knee is the claiming of kinship, the bequeathing of identity. It is accepting the encumbrance, the weight and want of another person at their neediest age.

Holding a child on your lap means bearing the burden, the interruption and even the annoyance of all they will ask of you. It is bending low, stopping and stooping, being weighted down by what matters most. It is opening yourself up to the love that will be demanded from you.

Parents, grandparents, godparents, teachers, caregivers, relatives and friends—we share the sacred weight of holding these least among us. When we let a child sit with us, we clear space for what matters most. We honor the gift of their presence.

We accept and embrace that they belong to us.

He never gives up, my youngest boy with a stubborn streak as deep as my own. He wears me down with whines as he wanders around the kitchen, begging until I remember how small and simple his requests are: one lap, two eyes on him, three minutes of my time.

I stop, sit down, cross my legs and gather him in. He smiles. His world is right again.

Copyright 2013 Laura Kelly Fanucci