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My wife drops her keys in the bowl by the door and finds me in the living room. I watch her unstrap her shoes and kick them off in the floor in front of her. Work is over for the day and we’re both home for the night yet neither of us feels like making dinner. The meal plan on the chalkboard in the kitchen has bruschetta chicken scribbled on it, but Tuesday feels like Monday so we’re choosing to ignore it.

Madison walks in interrupting our conversation with her own thoughts and questions before walking back out again. “Will you take my shoes upstairs?” her mother asks and she does because she’s a good kid. Aren’t all kids, when they want to be? Aren’t all adults for that matter? When we want to be? We listen to her steps stretch up the stairs until they become muffled by the carpet in her bedroom.

“Am I bad mother?” she asks me when our daughter is out of earshot.

It’s one of those moments. I have them, too. Sometimes parenting picks apart your insecurities and forces them to the surface like a bruise, dark and sensitive to the touch. The desire to be a successful, working mother when the world tells you to stay home and make crafts is a weight I’m incapable of carrying for her. Mom Guilt they call it. What she doesn’t know is the example she’s providing for our daughter is incomparable. Women can do it all and still have it all and they don’t have to feel bad about it... or wear an apron.

She looks at me with her brown eyes and I lose myself just as I did when we met 17 years ago. I thought I loved her then and even more when we got married, but then she made me a father and I fell in love with her all over again. She became a mother and somehow twice as beautiful in the process. When you’ve been with someone over half your lifetime, you get to see them at their best and their worst. You get to see them fail and succeed and you get to watch them grow up in between. 

You get to watch them watching you do the same.

“Of course not,” I reassure her. "You're a great mother." It’s the truth. I know it. Madison knows it. I think deep down she knows it, too. I remember all the research she did when she found out she was pregnant and how she made all of Madison’s baby food from scratch. The child never once tasted the jarred selections from the grocery store shelves; every fruit or vegetable was hand selected and each recipe was made in our kitchen. Kid tasted. Mother approved.

She read through numerous books careful to only choose the ones with words she wished she’d written. She only wanted the bedtime stories that reflected her heart and not just those that encouraged sleep. She only wanted the best for our little girl. She still does. You can tell by the way she makes her bed or does her laundry or packs her lunch. She has weaved her love into the braids of her hair and tucked it deep between her tiny toes.

Only good mothers know that love is more than just four letters.

I hear it buried in the middle of lectures and lessons, bouncing around in sentences of advice and appreciation. I see it reflected every time their eyes catch each other across the dinner table. I feel it erupt from their laughs flooding our walls and halls in the process. I taste it in the dough they roll out by hand when cookies are on the agenda. I smell it every time they hug and trade scents, mother and daughter, sweet and comforting. A breath of fresh air. 

Loud stomps are heard overhead and we both make our way upstairs to see what Madison has gotten into. She beats me to the steps because nothing stands in the way of a mama bear and her cub. Once in her room, we see our little girl shuffle by wearing the shoes she carried up earlier. Her mother’s shoes. The footsteps are bigger and the shoes harder to fill, but it doesn't stop her from trying. “Look! I’m just like you, Mama,” she says. "You're the best." 

See? Not bad at all. Not even close.

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