A warm little hand slides into mine as I press the button to close the van door. We laugh as we both shiver then scurry across the parking lot in a half run, half fast walk. We catch our breath as we reach the sidewalk leading to the school doors. He looks up at me, all rosy cheeks and big smile, and says, “You look beautiful, Mama.”
I smile back at him and say, “Thank you, baby.” But my mind almost immediately fills with thoughts of messy hair and a shiny face at the end of a long work day. I think of the old jeans I quickly changed into and the Christmas t-shirt I’ve been dragging out every December for years.
I later think back to the moment and wonder why I can’t just revel in the compliment. Why my mind can’t stay in that precious moment, but instead has to run away to some far less perfect one. Why I can’t ever seem to picture myself the way those beautiful blue eyes of that three year old so obviously see me.
He doesn’t care that my hair is messy. In fact, he often loves to make it messy and tells me he’s making me pretty. He never notices the oily skin on my cheeks and nose; he’s usually too busy grabbing the sides of my face to plant a big wet kiss on my lips. He has no idea how old those jeans and t-shirt are, as almost everything has been around as long as he can remember.
What he sees are the lines at the corners of my eyes when I laugh. He sees the sparkle in my eyes from a perfect blend of cold and moonlight and tiny random snowflakes starting to fall. He sees the way little strands of hair fall in my face as I look down at him. He sees me.
The self I see is viewed through my insecurities and lack of confidence and fears. I see myself through tired and worried eyes. Through the guilt of imperfect parenting and the regret of poor decisions.
That sweet preschooler sees me through his love for his mama. He sees me through eyes with tears that were dried by my quiet whispers and found sleep on my shoulder as I patted his back after a bad dream. He sees me through the comfort and safety he feels when that little hand slides into mine.
So I close my eyes and picture the me that he sees. I focus on that image and hold it tightly in the corner of my memory. Because the next time I hear , “Mama, you’re beautiful,” I want to see this version of me. I want to look down and say, “Thank you, baby,” and give him that smile I reserve for special shared moments. I want to see the beauty he beholds and revel in the beauty of that moment.