One evening, while rushing to get ready to go to an after-school performance, I was touching up on my makeup so that I wouldn’t appear to be a disheveled housewife. My 4-year-old son looked at me, clearly not recognizing who I was, and said, “Mommy, you’re so beautiful!” I couldn’t resist reaching down to hug him, and when I pulled back, I looked him in the eye and gave him some advice.
“You know,” I said, my hands perched on his shoulders, “telling any woman she’s beautiful will always make her feel happy and special. If you see someone who’s feeling sad, and you go over and tell her how beautiful she is, it’s a magic word that will make her smile again.” I could see Liad filing this information away in his head, in his little toolbox of tricks that he uses to charm anyone whom he meets. I also glimpsed into his future, a teenager with slicked-back hair, batting his long eyelashes and whispering, “You’re so beautiful,” to every girl in his path. I’d deal with that later. I swiped on the last bit of lip gloss and attended the school performance with all of my kids.
Later that night, when my husband came home, and the pajamaed children were excitedly liberated from bedtime because of his arrival, we sat down in the kitchen to have our “adult dinner” together. “You look so nice today,” my husband told me, appreciating the extra care I put into my appearance that evening. I readily smiled, the magic words taking effect. But as I was eating, I choked on something and began to cough. In between the coughs, my kids were running around, rapidly shifting from what should have been a tired state to a very hyperactive one, and coming over to inform me of how they were chasing each other, getting tickled or any other minute-by-minute updates on the spontaneous night activity.
I didn’t really care much about these updates because I was trying to focus on clearing my throat. Even if I wasn’t choking, I would still probably be dismissive of these reports and, to be honest, it wasn’t an actual airway-obstructive choke, but more of like a tickle I needed to get rid of. The constant running over to me was distracting me from my task at hand. “I’m choking! Please stop talking to me,” I wheezed to Liad, who suddenly halted his wild rampage and looked up at me, concerned, guilty in his behavior, finally taking heed to my current state.
“Mommy, you’re so beautiful!” he gushed, with all of the emotion he could muster, slightly misinterpreting my previous advice. “Are you better now?” He looked at me expectantly, as if his words were the omnipotent cure-all, the generic band-aid for all of life’s ailments. And even though I wanted to correct him, to tell him that it wasn’t the right way to help someone who was coughing, I accepted his gift. I allowed him to think that he had a power to help others. It had softened me inside, and so, in a way, I was better, albeit not in a physical way. I nodded, and thanked him. He walked away, confident and empowered.
Even later that night, I struggled to lure the kids into bed after too much unnecessary activity. I might have even had to count to three several times to threaten them into their rooms, and maybe I raised my voice to indicate how serious I was. Liad came stumbling over, sensed my frustrations, and took my face in his hands. “You’re so beautiful, Mommy,” he said, smoothing my cheeks, and then silently got into his bed, wiping away all traces of my annoyance with the sweetness of his words, with the genuine desire to right the wrongs.
By Sarah Abenaim
Sarah Abenaim is a freelance writer living in Teaneck. She can be reached at [email protected].