Standing at the sink, brushing teeth, mouths full of blue bubbles and fluoride, the whir of two off-sync electric toothbrushes humming, both of us so ready to end the day -- this is where a lot happens.
You might not guess that critical conversations, meltdowns, moments of complete peace congregate right there at the sink, but they do. It's the bit of time when everything's getting packed away for the day, sometimes folding up neatly into and "ahh" and sometimes spilling out wrinkly and faded and full of tiredness and holes.
Lil E perches on a plastic step stool so he can see himself in the mirror. I stand just around the granite corner, avoiding spit and reminding to get the gums, the back molars, the inside of the cheeks. The night light pulses red to yellow to orange. There's a clank of a stainless steel container filled with flossers. Sometimes we wink or smile or shake our booties at each other while we brush.
Last night, as Lil E tap-tap-tapped his Spiderman toothbrush against the sink to signal the end of it all, I watched him. He has that lanky look about him that tells me he is about to grow or is quietly growing, his face changing once again on the body that seems to only get stretched out every few months.
"I think you're awesome," I said around the fingers in my own mouth, still flossing my teeth.
He winked at me, slid a comb through his wet hair so his bangs were flattened against his forehead and dangling over eyebrows into his eyes.
"I think you're awesome, too!" He said it brightly, tossing the comb in the drawer, pushing it closed quickly, wiping toothpaste from the corner of his mouth a towel, pushing his step stool aside, all in a flurry. "The two most important people in my life are you and Daddy..."
In the pause, I was about to acknowledge, to say, "GOOD! And you're the most important person to me!" But I didn't get it in on time.
"...and me, OF COURSE," he finished.
He was out of the bathroom door and nearly in his room when he concluded that way. My head whipped around to see the backside of the little boy I think is so tall, clad in Star Wars jammies with bedhead setting in before his head has even hit the pillow. He was doing a half-skip sort of thing. Next, he'd kick the Legos out of the way, throw the pillows and stuffed animals from his bed and do a dive on to the side where he snuggles in when we read at night.
But before all of that, in the second or two between toothbrushing and book-reading, in the time between affections and skipping away, in the space between his dad and me -- he placed himself, confidently, emphatically.
The most important person to me is me. OF COURSE.
I could ask when we lose that and why, but we all know it comes incrementally with obligations and guilt and relationships and movies and books and love and lust and heartbreak and children and desperation and misguidedness and all kinds of crazy moments our parents cannot shield us from and serve us in other ways and maybe shouldn't ever be controlled. Instead I wonder why it's so hard to get it back once the ME, OF COURSE, once the confidence has slid slowly down the drain.
I'm exhausted from the time I spend justifying taking a bath or a nap or a birthday trip with my girlfriends to myself, especially when my son is home, even when 95% of that time is completely centered on him when he is home. It doesn't matter to anyone else that I let him watch a show while I get in the tub or insist he read quietly while I nap next to him or arrange for him to have an extra night with his dad -- they are not even asking. So maybe it is time I get a little more OF COURSE back into the equations I'm tallying for me.
And maybe, if life is as simple as we hope, Lil E will see that and get it, or at least remember it years from now when he's debating whether he should take that bike ride along the lake or get on a plane or wander through a Target or forest or library for a few hours on his own. I can't make him preserve all of that emphatic-ness, I can't decide his priorities for him. But I'd really like to help him hold on to that answer in some form for many years, through all those inevitable experiences, as much as possible.
Not because he deserves it, but because he owns it. Just like I do. Maybe not in all-caps all the time, but deep in there when we least expect it, most need it, in the everyday or end-of-day craziness and calm. It's there. Still very there. We just both have to tap-tap-tap into it. Of course.