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Smile Whore

Smile Whore

He’s looking my way. He gives me a wink, then a laugh, he turns away. He looks back, our eyes meet. He smiles. I melt inside. He smiles again and turns away. But wait. He’s smiling at … someone else … the mailman? He’s smiling at the mailman? And now the creepy neighbor who never changes out of his bathrobe … Now the homeless man on the corner who wears leggings and roller skates? Him too. He gets a smile? The UPS man just pulled up. Does he get a smile too? Yes! The UPS man gets the special smile only intended for me! I’m incensed. I’m outraged. I thought I was special. I thought we had something. But now it’s clear, my son will smile at anyone who passes. My son is a smile whore.

Before I had my son, I was always dubious of being the kind of Mom who needed her kid’s love. I never wanted to be the Mom who’d say things like, “My baby loves me the most,” or “Where would you ever go without me?” Quite frankly, Moms whose only accomplishments are their child, who live through their kids, make me sad. In fact, I think those women are sort of pathetic. Our kids aren’t born to make us happier or to better our lives. In fact, kids don’t have to give back at all. We’re here to make our kids happier and to better their lives. It’s a one-way street that’s not coming Mom’s way.

Then my boy arrived and I realized that not only was I crazy about this little guy, but that he and I had an indescribable connection that every parent feels with his or her child. Waves of emotion come over me like a tidal wave. Worry wakes me in the night while tears find their way down my face when I think about how much I love him.

Unfortunately, it’s not clear if he’d say the same thing about me. At the rate, this kid is smiling and cooing at any passerby, I’m going to need to call his agent just to get a little face time. This kid seems to love everybody, will be held by anybody, and gives that special, toothy grin to just about anyone who’s breathing. What I thought was a special bond feels more like a temporary flirtation, which could find me replaced by any Tom, Dick, or Mommy.


So I start to hope, secretly, that my little one would get a little case, a really little case, of separation anxiety. After all, separation anxiety is a clinical term; it’s recognized by doctors. Most nine-month olds can’t be out of sight, some out of arm’s reach, from the one and only, Mommy. And while I don’t wish the anxiety part upon my child—after all he’s a Jewish boy, he’s got a long life of anxiety ahead of him—I wouldn’t mind the part where he gets a little teary-eyed when I’m not around. Friends of mine with babes his age would complain about their kid wanting to be held all the time, temper tantrums when Mom leaves the house, or the best: a Mom who had to leave her dinner plans because her son was completely inconsolable without her. This is exactly what I’m looking for; a little public acknowledgment that I’m Number One, the Master Soother, center of all things comforting. A few tears in my absence tells me that I’m important.

And so I wait. I look for a sign, a cue, something that tells me that my little one is lonely without me. Upon the arrival of my son’s Nanny, I tell him, “Mommy’s going to have to leave right now and I know that makes you sad.” But instead of weeping, my son sees a new toy, picks it up and proceeds to bang into the ground. He’s never been happier. Night wakings become my hope that he misses me until out pops a new tooth, and he goes back to sleeping like … well, like a baby. And an hour-long cry fest becomes my last hope that this kid misses me until I check his diaper and realize there’s something that I’ve been missing and it’s called a poop.

Other Moms tell me how lucky I am; my kid has a nice disposition, doesn’t mind strangers, what am I complaining about? Easy for them to say, their kids have the decency to cry for hours on end, driving babysitters to quit, when they leave the house. I’m just the Mom whose son thinks of her as a replaceable set of arms that can transport him to the next passerby or stranger whom he’d like to charm. I’m no one special. The kid doesn’t even have the consideration to look like me, much less love me the most.

Then it happens. He looks at me, smiles, looks away, turns back again, smiles, and then starts screaming bloody murder. He’s inconsolable. I’m jubilant. I’m thrilled. I’m in hell.


The problem with him only wanting to be with me, is he only wants to be with me. He wants to be held by me and only me for hours on end causing me to cook, pay bills, and do my hair all with my less dominant right hand. After a week of this charade, I’ve got one really strong bicep, but I’ve also basted a wall instead of a chicken, have made checks out in penmanship akin to a serial killer, and could only blow dry half my hair, leaving the other half styled like an air dried replica of Shirley Temple’s pubic hair. Sleep becomes a total non-issue as my new best friend Norma Rae’s his way out of his naps and I begin to feel like I’ve got a twenty-eight-inch Siamese twin. Turns out, I don’t need to be a needed Number One; I’ll settle for a well rested Number Two.

That’s when it occurs to me that I got exactly what I deserve. I’ve become that pathetic Mom who needs to be needed, hoping my kid will cover up the holes in my life. The sign of being loved isn’t being needed, it’s seeing your kid grow up to be a spirited, loving person. I hope my son independently crosses each milestone from crawling to college without whimpering as he goes through each step and without me whimpering as I lose him. Our children are not possessions, they’re just ours to nurture until they become their own person. We have to share them with the world.

He’s starting to sleep through the night again. That’s twelve hours of baby-free time. That’s twelve hours for me to miss him. That’s twelve hours for me to get back to work on me. I can finally put him down again and he’ll nap without going on strike. And while I miss him missing me just a little bit, I realize that what was really missing was me. Somehow I stopped when he began. So now when he coos at the Fed Ex guy or giggles for the pool man, I don’t take it personally. He and I are seeing other people. And that’s the way it should be.

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