Years ago a friend of
mine, then 37, was about to become a father for the first time. I was only 23,
a good 15 years ahead of becoming a parent myself, which is perhaps why I was
so naive when my friend shared his anxiety with me: would his daughter respect
him? Had he done enough with his life? Was he advanced enough in his career?
Relax, I’d say. She
won’t even know you’re a person until she’s a teenager.
It’s not true. From
the moment my son, now 4, was born, I have sensed him considering me. His insights into me are simultaneously heartwarming and a little mortifying.
I, like most parents,
have tried to put myself forward as an educated, reasonably accomplished,
healthy, balanced and generally together person. It’s not that I’m not
these things, I’m just not them all the time. My son can see through my
façade unlike anyone.
He is patient with me.
“Mommy, things just aren’t going right for you today,” he once said to me from
the backseat of our car, which was locked inside a parking garage because I’d
lost my debit card. Another time he found a piece of paper on the floor of the
airport, which I scolded him for picking up and told him to throw away. I hadn't realized it was my boarding pass. “It’s okay, mommy,” said my sage in dungarees,
“it’s just that you are carrying so many things.”
I have heard him tell
his babysitter that I always forget things. For a time he became sincerely
concerned that I would be taken to jail. I have no idea where this came from, but he reassured me that, should it happen, he will knock down the walls to
set me free again.
We live in the
Netherlands, and he has mastered Dutch. I am still a work in progress. He
tries to help me by only allowing me to say the names of his friends that I can
properly pronounce. “Mommy, you can’t say Sjaard or Rogier, but you can say Pim
He loves me, but I also get the feeling he kind of feels sorry for me.
He thinks I am lost
when I’m not. We walked home recently from a restaurant, taking a different
route. He was very uneasy. “Mommy, you don’t know where we are. We need to call
Daddy, he will find us.”
The things I am most
proud of are lost on him. One day, feeling particularly pleased that
an article of mine would be published in a magazine I admire, I asked him what
my job was. His answer: my job is to point at squares —you know, to type. He now
tells people I work in a fire station, because we visited one once for an
article I was writing and that’s way cooler.
He loves me, but I
also get the feeling he kind of feels sorry for me. Sometimes his compliments
have that not-too-subtle air of condescension to them: “Mommy, you are really,
really good at puzzles!” or “Mommy, you are getting better at driving!”
confronting. Children care about your whole character, how much they can rely
on you and not about your accomplishments. They don’t care about your job or
how fast you can run a marathon or whether you are a good cook (I’m not).
I am a good person in my
son’s eyes, if not a slightly flawed one. Despite seeing right through to my
idiosyncrasies, I know he is genuinely proud of me, and he’s rooting for me.