My son was enjoying a rare pack of Starbursts before I dropped him off at his dad’s yesterday. The car ride was more on the silent side—peeling, chewing, and prioritizing colors demands focus!–but he took a quick break to tell me how much he will miss me while he’s away.
At most, he has fragmented, disjointed memories of when he didn’t have to shuttle between homes, of when he didn’t have to say goodbye to a parent for the weekend. His mom and dad separated when he was three-years-old. The custodial two-step dance is flawless at this point, a “Dancing With the Stars” caliber routine. It’s not a source of anxiety for him anymore.
He asked if he could take his Starbursts, and I nodded yes with a knowing smile. He unbuckled, gave me a hug and a kiss, and opened his door to leave. With both feet on the ground, he said, “I love you.” And then he turned to close the door.
It’s always the hardest part for me when he closes the door.
My mind shifted to its familiar place. I started thinking about work, about cleaning the house, about all the stuff I need to do for my upcoming wedding. I looked down at my frayed cuticles and added manicure to the list that was growing by the second.
Random thoughts float in and out of my mind to pacify me in his absence. According to my inner dialogue, I will miss saying goodnight to him, but I will get everything done so I can be a fully present parent when he comes home. Of course it never goes as planned (I have another bonus son full-time), but that’s how I soothe myself. It’s better than ODing on potato chips.
And then, surprisingly, he shouted, “Wait! I almost forgot…”
I expected him to reach for a toy in the backseat, to lobby for his Kindle, to remind me about something he needed to start baseball this weekend.
“What’s up, buddy?” I asked.
He turned his back so I couldn’t see what he was doing. When he was finished, he climbed into the front seat and put a pink Starburst into the palm of my hand.
“This is for you, mom,” he said.
He gave me another hug and kiss and closed the door once again, this time for good. He felt like he could leave on those terms.
I stared at the lone pink Starburst in my open hand. I no longer saw my nails in desperate need of a manicure. I no longer heard my to-do list rattling around in my brain.
Once again, there was silence.
This selfless gesture–a parting pink Starburst–just overwhelmed me with pure love. All he had to give was a Starburst, and he knows pink is my favorite. He searched through the pack to find one for me to enjoy while he is gone.
My boy is sweeter than all of the pink Starbursts ever made.
I truly adore you, Alex James.
This article was originally published on Huffington Post.