All of our biggest conversations happen in the car. We were on our way to gymnastics, deep into a Depeche Mode song, when Quinlan asked me to revisit a story I’d once mentioned about a boyfriend I’d had when I was younger. “Mom? Did he throw you into the lake?”
It took me a moment before I realized what she was talking about, then immediately swore to always downplay any single story I told her again from there on out. “No, no, honey. That boy never THREW me into a lake. We were in a canoe on a lake, and he was teasing me by rocking the boat over the deep water.”
“And that’s why he didn’t become your boyfriend anymore?”
“Well, not because of just that. But I was upset because he knew I was scared. But there were more moments after that when…” I couldn’t think of a way to explain it. “He wasn’t mean. I just started to feel bad about myself when I was around him. Like, sad.” She seemed to understand what I was saying. “So I knew it was time for him to not be my boyfriend anymore.”
We drove in silence for a bit. I wanted to say something more.
“Can I tell you, though? Do you want to know what I like about your dad? As a boyfriend thing?”
“What?” Her little voice. Oh, that little voice.
“I just realized this the other day, actually,” I said. “And I told your dad, too: no matter how grumpy I am, or grouchy, your dad always makes me feel good about myself.”
And then I corrected myself. “I mean, not makes me feel good about myself,. What I mean is that I know that he likes me just as I am, all the time.”
Quinlan’s response was matter-of-fact. “I know.”
“Yeah. Even when you fight, he still likes you. You can tell. Just like when we do something wrong, you still like us.”
“Yes, exactly,” I said. I totally teared up behind my sunglasses.
“Mom?” Quinlan wasn’t finished. “Do you always like us?”
More teary eyes. “Yes, baby. I always like you,” I said. “When I say you’re my favorite people, I mean it. You guys are my favorite people.”
There was a beat of silence.
“Yes. Daddy, too.”
I could see her thinking about that.
“That’s true love, baby,” I added. “When you like each other no matter what.”
In the rearview mirror, I saw her nod.