published Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

Parenting: The secret superpower

Mary Fortune
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    Mary Fortune

My husband and our older son took a little golf trip recently, leaving our younger son and me to entertain ourselves for a few days. It's a rare pleasure, getting to spend one-on-one time with my littlest boy, Ben. As the second kid, he really got the short end of that familial stick.

One afternoon I took him on a hike with the dog, then to Target to buy a new Matchbox car and then back to the house to watch a movie and eat pizza. We were curled up together on the couch when he sighed and dropped his head back onto my shoulder. "I am just so happy right now," he said.

Folks, that is powerful stuff.

An acquaintance of mine once commented that having kids must be nice because you know someone will always love you. Something about that sentiment didn't sit right with me at the time, but I let it go by. He doesn't have kids, and I couldn't put my finger on why I felt the need to object.

Months later, that moment with Ben clarified it for me: The most potent pleasure of parenting is the ability to make someone that happy simply by loving them.

In truth, my son may or may not always love me. In fact, I expect he will hate me a bit once the teen years hit. That's practically his birthright.

But I don't care if he doesn't always love me. No matter what, I'll always love him with everything I have, and he will always know it. In the best moments, that certainty will have the power to make him happy, to make him feel safe.

As the daughter of attentive parents, I know that feeling. It's a refuge like no other. It's the source of profound comfort, even now.

My dad came by to see us on Memorial Day. He sat at the kitchen table and chatted with us and our friends, drank a Coke and watched his grandsons playing with their buddies. As he left, he asked me if we need money for a trip we're planning.

"Oh no, thank you," I answered reflexively. "We'll be OK, but thanks, really."

"Yeah, you need money," he said, dropping a hand onto my shoulder. "I'll bring some by before you leave."

"It's really OK, we'll manage, Dad," I said, which is completely ridiculous. We are four people living on one income and half of us attend private school.

"I'll bring it," he said, grinning over his shoulder as he walked to his car. "Why wait for probate, Mare?"

When I was little, he used to carry me to bed up the stairs on his back every night. I have an old cassette tape he recorded of us reading "Dragon in a Wagon" together when I was about 3. I was cold once at a baseball game, and he gave me his shirt.

My God, the time went by. It went by, and now I'm 40, and every night I read to my son, and even now my dad is letting me know he loves me, in whatever way he can think of to do it.

And it still makes me happy.

Email Mary Fortune at mkfortune@comcast.net.

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