“Do you wish you’d never had me?”
My fork stops in mid-air. My eyes dart to my left to meet your dad’s; his arched eyebrows confirm I haven’t misheard.
You sit across the table from me. Your plate of food is mostly untouched, as usual. Your eyes aren’t sparkling with a joke, though, and you’re not preparing to launch into yet another silly story. Instead, you gaze downward, where your fingers twist together in your lap. Your voice fades with the question until it’s barely more than a whisper, as though you regret asking it the moment it’s left your lips.
“What? Nathan, baby, why would you ask that?” There’s panic in my voice, and I wonder if you can hear it. There are tears pricking my eyes, and I wonder if you can see them. What are you thinking, sweet boy? What have I done?
Your thin shoulders shrug, and at last you raise your big brown eyes to meet mine. They are sheepish as you mumble, “Well, I do talk too much sometimes.”
Oh, baby. You do, of course. You talk so much that your food gets cold, and I have to heat your plate up mid-meal almost every night. You’ve been going non-stop during this very dinner; it’s the reason your pasta is still untouched while your sister is plowing through her second helping. Your chatter is the background noise of my life: getting ready in the morning, on the way to school, on the way back home. I’m convinced the reason that Ellie barely talks at 20 months old is because she can’t get a word in edgewise. You tell me everything and nothing; I know the plot line of every show you watch and whose name was on the board for misbehaving in class. You narrate everything you see and make up songs about the silliest of things. And questions … so many questions. Your days are filled with endless queries, about everything from why the moon is in the sky during the day to why girls can’t pee standing up. On a trip once, your big cousins decide to keep track of the number of questions you asked in a day. They gave up when they reached 107 before the end of breakfast.
Clearly, you’re correct in this moment of self-analysis. How do you even know you talk too much, though? What sort of five year old has that kind of self-awareness? There’s only one answer, and it’s breaking me right in two to acknowledge it. Because of me. Because I snap at you to eat your dinner. Because I cut you off mid-story and tell you to get your shoes on; we’re running late again. Because there’s an edge to my reply when, for the 10th time in five minutes, you say “Hey Mom, can I tell you something?” You’ve internalized my frustration. You’ve catalogued my rolled eyes, heavy sighs and exasperated tone and come to one conclusion: there’s something wrong with you.
Yes, this is all my fault, and in more ways than one. The irony is not lost on me; you certainly didn’t get your loquacious nature from your father, after all. You are your daddy in nearly every way, but your non-stop chatter, well, that gift comes from me. There’s a pain settling like a boulder in my gut. You are sad, because of me. You feel like we regret you, because you’re like me. Oh, Nathan. Nothing could be further from the truth. You’re the best thing I’ve ever done. Watching you do you – it will be one of the simplest and greatest joys of my life. I must fix this. How do I fix this?
I clear my throat, as though I expect that to dislodge the pit in my stomach. You’re watching me, waiting for me to make it all better, but – for once – I’m at a loss for words. I hesitate, searching for an epiphany that doesn’t come. At last, I decide on honesty, and a confession.
“Yes baby, you do talk too much sometimes. But do you want to know a secret?”
Your eyes light up. You love secrets.
“I do, too, buddy. I’m the reason you talk so much, you know – you got that from me. Just like you got those beautiful brown eyes from your dad. I talk more than I should, especially when I’m nervous. I probably wear people out with all my words.
That’s why I could never regret you though, why dad could never regret you: you belong to us. You are part of us, and we are a part of you. You are perfect, just the way God made you. We love you, all of you, just the way God made you.”
I watch you take in my words. I pray for them, as they find their way to your mind and your heart. Believe me, I breathe. Slowly, you smile.
“You talk a lot, too?”
“Alllllll the time, buddy,” your dad chimes in, giving you a knowing glance. Your smile becomes a giggle, and my sweet and silly boy is back again. I feel the tension leave my body, though the guilt remains. I will do better, I silently resolve. Never again will you question your value because of me. Oblivious to my inner turmoil, you pick up your fork and, at last, begin to eat.
After dinner, I catch you before you rocket out of the kitchen. Setting aside the dishtowel, I sink to my knees to give you an extra long hug and a kiss and tell you how much I love you.
“I really love you too, Mom.” Maybe it’s because you know I need it, but you linger in my arms; your face presses into my neck. You let me hold you, as though my hug can make up for the hurt. There’s forgiveness in your embrace, and I let it make me whole.
At bedtime, Dad and I both snuggle in bed with you, a rare and special treat. You are lying between us, and you’ve pulled our hands to your chest and folded your own underneath them. I look at them sandwiched there: dad’s, mine, yours. Your small hands, nearly hidden between ours, hold tight to each of us; the tie that binds. You are ours, sweet boy. You are us.
We could not love you more.