I experienced the most humbling moment of my 5-year motherhood career tonight.
Fred and I were chatting about his friends, and I realized when I started hitting a wall of shoulder-shrugging “I dunno”s that I should get him to try understanding and expressing his feelings about his friends. “Why do you like Jack?” I asked. We went back and forth several times and couldn’t get past “Because he’s my age and he’s a boy.”
“Okay,” I said, “I’ll make it easier for you. Why do you love Mommy?” I realized this was a better example to start with. He smiled and crawled over to me and pressed his cheek against my hand. “Because you’re soft…”
“Because you make me sleepy…” I am the person he feels safest with while drifting away from his waking world each night. I knew what he was feeling but I wanted him to try. I decided to change my line of questioning to get him to think some more about why he loves the people that he does.
“Would you still love me if I yelled at you all the time?” He sat up and his smile flattened.
“I don’t know.”
“Would you still love me if I were a totally mean person?”
“Why?” I wanted an explanation. I wanted to know why he’d forgive and love anyone who could ever do anything short of loving and respecting him. No one would deserve that, not even me.
“I don’t know.”
But he said all this without any hesitation, without any hint of facetiousness, as if this – his unconditional love for me – were a given, as certain as day and night.
He knew. He knew the way I’d always known the way a mother’s love works. But I did not know fully, not until tonight, how a child’s love works for his or her parent. I didn’t appreciate fully until tonight just how much power I have over my child.