The other night, I was putting my son to bed, leaning over him for a kiss goodnight.
"Mom, don't do that," he said sternly.
"What, sweetie? Do what? Kiss you goodnight?"
"No mom, don't lean over me: you look old."
I recoiled in horror and shrieked inwardly, but maintained my cool (the last thing I want is for him to know he has something on me). Jaden has always been obsessed with beauty and perfection: specifically focused on me and my looks. When he was a toddler, before he could speak, he would point at my teeth and grunt emphatically if I had something caught in them to the point where he would even start trying to dig the offending thing out with his pudgy finger. And it was like he couldn't relax until I was restored back to my perfect mommy-self. It became a running gag for many years, when I'd deliberately put a giant leaf of lettuce in my mouth, and playfully torture him, by saying "Hey Jaden do I have anything in my teeth?" And we'd all laugh as he pointed and furrowed his brow intently. The prank ended one day when he looked at me with a mix of boredom and embarrassment, "Mom, stop it. You look dumb."
I continued to notice his magnified focus on my imperfection as he got older, as he began to notice the prematurely gray hair I'm blessed with. If he saw some growth, he'd tell me I looked like Nana, his great-grandmother of 80, and once he even cried, saying I was old and was I going to die soon??!!! I dealt with that by explaining I could fix it thanks to the magic of haircolor. And ever since, he tells me bluntly, "Mom, you have to go to the hairdresser." Brutal, right? Please know, that I am raising the son of a single mom, and we look out for each other, at least that's how I've reframed his observations.
But this latest one, about me leaning over and seeing the wrinkles around my eyes accentuated, made me have to have a talk with him out of fear for his romantic future. I didn't want to send him out in the World in pursuit of the impossibly perfect beauty ideal in a partner. We all know men that criticize their women; men who highlight women's insecurities by holding them up to impossible standards. My boy will not be like that if I have a say in it - and I do. So I told Jaden that ageing is part of living. That beauty changes shape, and faces shift over time; and that a life well-lived filled with laughter, tears and joy is like a road map of our human experience on or souls and faces. He listened intently, and nodded with understanding, then said earnestly, "I get it Mom, but then why does Mina (my mom) look better than you?" Gasp! I smiled stoically, shrugged with seeming indifference, tucked him in (with my head upright!) and promptly booked a facial with my dermatologist the very next morning!! Ah, the insights of our beloved children!