And, then I felt two sets of eyes on me. Four eyes kept watching. When I smiled, I saw smiling eyes in my peripheral vision. As the movie went on, I felt the eyes move on to me several times, guardedly watching to see if I was enjoying the movie too. I sensed them hanging on to see if I smiled or laughed at the funny parts, and so I made sure that I did. Even if they weren't that funny. And, like clockwork, the four eyes would rotate back to the screen--almost as if synchronized.
I realized in that moment, that my happiness really does matter to my children. I put my arm around my youngest girl and a hand on my son's knee. I let my son lean his head on me and soaked in a wonderful moment of his pre-teen self letting go of being embarrassed of Mom long enough to show he loved me. And, my heart soaked it up like a great piece of bread soaks up the gravy--saving the feeling of that for the angst-ridden teen years ahead when I will need it most.
Later, on the drive home, my kids were playing an animated round of Texas Hold-Em in the back seat, completely enjoying the game with one another. So, I made a phone call to my boyfriend. The conversation turned to serious things, then a quick misunderstanding of words, and several more serious exchanges. During all of this, I became absorbed in the call and stopped paying attention to the card playing in the back.
I didn't notice at all when they stopped playing and started listening.
Our phone conversation grew more tense. And, eventually, I managed to frustrate the heck out of my guy--a gift I seem to have a knack for that I wish I could somehow lose. I can say at this point we were in pre-argument or perhaps mini-argument mode.
That's when I felt the four eyes again. Watching. Listening quietly. Hanging on my words. I caught a few concerned looks in the rear-view mirror, their eyes quickly darting away as soon as they met my glance.
I got off the phone, but unfortunately I selfishly let my hurt and frustration continue to show on my face. I popped out of the car to grab the mail, and when I popped back in, my sweet girl was handing me a card she'd quickly made from a scrap of construction paper in the back seat and an old marker.
"This is for you," she said sweetly. Distracted, I quickly opened it, my mind on other things. That's when the words jumped out at me:
"Mom, I love you. Thank you for all the nice things you do for us."
Again, I felt two sets of eyes watching my expression. My son added,
"We really had fun today, Mom."
Today, more than ever, I realized two very important things.
First, that my happiness does really matter to my kids and it can directly affect their happiness. All the years I had growing up in a home with a mother who was chronically depressed and anxious, came flooding back. The way I somehow subconsciously felt that my own mother's happiness relied upon my own worth and accomplishments. How could I lose sight of this very important thing? The very thing, in fact, that helped me made my final decision to divorce just under a year ago.
And, secondly, that no matter how I like to think that my children do not notice when my mood dips, they really do. And, they really need to know that their Mom is OK right now, after all that we've been through.
I am left tonight with a feeling of such completely gratitude for my loving children, coupled with a serious determination to not let those two sets of eyes show worry for me like that, as much as I can help it, in the months and years to come.