A few months ago, I said to my husband, “I just don’t think our son likes me.” And I meant it.
I’ve known his entire life – all four years – that I wasn’t his favorite. Even as an infant, he preferred my father-in-law to just about anyone, followed closely by my husband. I’m really not sure if I ranked third or not. But then the gap widened. He’s never been a hugger, but soon he hugged me like it was a form of punishment. If my husband and I tried to trade off bedtime duties, and I entered our son’s room, I was quickly and loudly dismissed. Before long, I stopped asking if he wanted to sit next to me on the couch, because each rejection was a little more painful than the last.
I would read friends’ blogs and Facebook posts and be in awe. Their sons told them they were pretty. Their sons wanted to read books, and play games, and read stories with their mothers. Sometimes I wondered if my son would even miss me if I was gone.
And then something strange happened. Something very strange.
I was getting ready for church when my son entered the room. “Why are you wearing that pretty sweater mommy? You look so pretty.”
My jaw almost hit the floor. But I took it in stride. I figured he’d gotten a word confused. Maybe he’d mixed up “pretty” and “awful.”
We piled in the van. It was a sunny day, so I lowered my sun visor.
“Mommy, I can’t see that window up there. Open that window.”
“What window, Buddy? There isn’t a window up here.”
“I think he means the mirror on the visor. He thinks it’s a window,” my husband said.
I explained there was no window. I lifted the panel to reveal the mirror.
“That’s what I meant, Mommy. The mirror. I need you to open the mirror so I can see your pretty face.”
This time my jaw did hit the floor. But my heart bounced off the ceiling. I don’t know what caused the change, but I was taking it. Starting that night, I began cuddling with my son before bed. In the past he’d have wanted no part of it, but now he welcomed me with open arms. My daughter has always been a cuddle-bug, and she moved from her crib to a bed that same week. So after the baby was in bed, I would cuddle her goodnight, and then move on to my son.
As much as I loved the cuddling, all that extra love was taking a lot of time, and soon it was hard not to think of all I still had to do in the evenings. Besides my woefully neglected manuscript, there were dishes to clean and laundry to fold. There was also the all important “me time.” Cuddle time was falling at the end of a very long 14 hour day, and as sweet as their hair smelled, it would only remind me that I hadn’t washed my own. Each time, I would extricate myself from their warm embraces with the explanation, “Mommy has things to do.”
A few nights ago, I was balancing precariously on the edge of my son’s bed, held on only by the skinny leg thrown on top of mine. I could almost hear the food drying on the dishes downstairs. Slowly hardening into a mashed potato cement that would never come unglued. I loosened his leg’s death grip from my thigh and announced, “Mommy has to clean the kitchen.”
“What will happen if you don’t clean the kitchen?”
I know this wasn’t a rhetorical question. He really did want to know if something would happen. Maybe he thought bugs or mice or dinosaurs would descend upon us and scavenge the kitchen for leftover scraps of chicken and peas. But in the moment, standing over that tiny boy with the big brown eyes, I knew the answer.
“You’re right, Buddy. Nothing will happen. That’s why I’m staying here with you.”
Then I dove back under the covers, arranged myself in the very middle of that cheap twin bed, and wrapped both arms around him. I didn’t even protest when he wanted to throw both of his legs over mine. I woke up 45 minutes later, groggy, but deeply at peace. And you know what? I didn’t even wash the dishes that night. I simply stumbled to my own room and resolved to clean the kitchen in the morning.
Because who know how long this new phase will last? The one where I’m pretty, and worth cuddling? How many more days do I have for him to beg to sit on my lap to watch TV, and comes to me with his boo boos instead of Daddy? Maybe it will all end tomorrow – which is why my kitchen is dirty tonight.
Oh, and did I mention that I did pay another price for all this cuddling? My daughter has head lice, and I was the only one in the house lucky enough to catch them. Still, totally worth it.