A few days ago, Eliot and I were in the car on the way to town and he said, slowly and carefully, in the manner he uses when relating a piece of information he's been chewing on for some time, "Mommy...I know you like me...but I like my daddy."
I smiled into the rear view mirror, and I assured him, "That's okay, sweetie. You can like Mommy and Daddy at the same time. We both love you."
He replied, "No. Not you. I only just like my daddy."
I found this admission so touching. For one thing, his words reveal that he is a very perceptive little boy. He's no fool. He knows Daddy doesn't come home anymore. He senses that there is more to this new development than just a physical absence. He feels the rift between his parents. And sadly, he already feels the need to profess some kind of allegiance to one of us.
From that perspective, his words sadden me. He is too young to worry about this, too young to take on the cares of his parents. (As his momma, there is a huge part of me that wants to shoulder every burden for him, though I know to do so would be folly.)
On the other hand, my son's words tell me that he is confident of my love. My love is a constant (his North star), unchanging. My love is not something he has to earn. Right now, at the age of almost-but-not-quite-three, he has that knowledge; it has formed with him, knit into his very bones. I will always love him, even if he doesn't even like me back. (In hindsight, this might very well have been true of my marriage, also...No wonder THAT didn't work out.)
I was reminded of a conversation I'd had with my therapist a couple of months back. (Yes, I have a therapist. Everyone should. Engaging in talk therapy is like getting a pedicure for the soul.)
Anyway, I was, in garbled, tortured words clawing their way out of my throat, admitting my belief that everything good in my life is completely unearned. My job, my son, my friends, my family, all have been dropped into my lap. I've never done anything to deserve this wonderful life. Therefore, it shouldn't be a surprise to me when it all falls apart. I've been expecting it.
He said, in his quiet way, "Give me an example. Tell me about something you have that is good and why you think you don't deserve it."
"Eliot!" I said, immediately. "He is the sweetest, smartest, coolest kid on the planet, and I don't deserve to be his mother because I am a crappy parent. I've done nothing, nothing, nothing to cause him to be so wonderfully well behaved and chill. He just IS that way. Luck of the draw."
And Dr. ____, not to be persuaded by my self-defeating logic, replied, "Rachel. Your son is the way he is in large part because of the way you treat him. You are loving and calm and patient with him. His demeanor reflects that. He is a child who knows he is loved. You have done that."
And the tiniest crack appeared in my defeatist resolve as I pondered that new perspective. Maybe...nah....
"You don't give yourself enough credit," Dr. _____ said.
"I'm paying you to say that," I replied.
"No. Not you. I only just like my daddy."
I turned to smile at Eliot, who was strapped securely into his little car seat. He paused for a moment in his contemplation of the miniature, 1/64 scale John Deere 9870 STS combine clutched in both of his hands. He looked up at me. I said, "Buddy, that's okay too. That's perfectly okay."
And we drove on.