How I dealt with my son seeing the beauty in another woman.
"Mommy, Daddy has Beth. And Beth is beautiful."
We were in the car, driving to school. My son was quietly playing Batman in his car seat when he laid that gem on me early one morning.
She is beautiful.
My knuckles turned white on the steering wheel and my chest tightened but I plastered a smile on my face (I probably didn't look that far off from the Joker figurine he had in his hand). I wanted to blurt out the first thing that popped into my mind, which was "What about me?" But instead, I stuck with a non-committal response that I picked up from my own mother:"Mmmm hmmm."
My eyes flitted to the rearview mirror. His face flashed a question mark, but a moment later, he seemed to have moved on. I could tell because his masked superhero was clumsily kicking the bad guy's ass to the 4-year-old sound of, "Pshhh, pshhh, pshhhh!" Which, ironically, was the same noise of the pulse throbbing in my ears.
I tightened my jaw and took a deep breath. Beautiful. Yeah, I guess she is pretty in a "twenty-something-yoga-teacher-pierced-tattooed-hey-you-used-to-be-my-friend-but-you're-now-with-my-ex-husband" type of way. But did I really need to hear my kid say it so nonchalantly? Before I had my coffee?
Sigh. He rarely mentions his father's fiancée, so this was a bomb I was not prepared to take cover from. I pulled over into a parking lot and leaned my head on the steering wheel.
"Mommy, what are you doing?"
Putting my sunglasses on, I dusted imaginary dirt from the dashboard. I silently counted to three. I cleared my throat. I drummed my fingers. I did anything to stall speaking, because if I did, I knew my voice would crack like a pre-pubescent boy.
"I'm OK, kiddo. I just need a second."
He set his toys down and peered at me through his long-lashed brown eyes. "Mommy, why do your words sound funny?"
That made me laugh through my tears. My son rarely sees me cry. I never raise my voice, or get frustrated in front of him, or even drop a cuss word under my breath when I stub my toe. In fact, the only emotion he ever sees from me is love and joy. So, I could understand his confusion when I took a shaky breath and wiped my wet cheek.
I never wanted to be weak in front of him. I wanted him to see me as a strong, single mom. A woman who works hard, and plays harder. A woman who is never rattled, never falters and can bake the hell out of a pan of lasagna. Not someone who breaks down at something so minor and superficial as thinking another woman, other than his me — his mother — is beautiful.
I turned and looked at him. His gaze was on his lap, and he half-heartedly made his superheroes dance a jig. I softly called his name and touched his leg, and he looked at me.
"Mommy loves you," I said, struggling for words.
I stopped, and he patiently waited to see where I was going with this. And honestly, I had no idea. I didn't want him to feel bad for noticing the "good" in someone else. He didn't say it to make me feel like an hobbit; he said it to share something that was on his mind.
He could have just as easily have said the sky was blue, or our cat was an assh*le. But this is what he chose to tell me, and I needed to proceed with caution to show I valued his opinion.
I opened up my mouth to continue, and my voice was small and childish. I caught sight of his weekend backpack on the next seat, and lamely said, "I'm just going to miss you, that's all. So, that's why I..."
I tried to continue, to stupidly explain my erratic behavior to a preschooler, but he interrupted me.
"Mommy, you're beautiful. Beth is beautiful. You're my Mommy, and Daddy has Beth."
Oh. Well. Touché, young man. Well played. He beamed at me, proud of his innocent diffusion of the situation. And actually, so was I.
I am not one to rely on my son for therapy or validation (I mean, isn't that what I am paying my insurance for?), but I realized at that moment I have been grossly underestimating him. He felt empathy, something that is very difficult for a child to grasp. And he handled it just fine. I have been sheltering him, and letting him see that I felt emotion made me feel like a real-life human, and not just supermom.
I smiled and pulled back out onto the road, and we chatted and laughed and sang until we reached our destination. All was forgotten, all was well, and I felt beautiful.