“Wow,” he says, and for some reason I brace myself, unsure of what I’m about to hear.
It’s our morning rush time. I’m on “my side” of the counter making breakfasts, packing lunches, unloading (and reloading) the dishwasher, and directing traffic.
The same as any other day; but today Jason is working from home. It’s unusual for him to be planted in the middle of this morning chaos, and although it’s going (relatively) smoothly, I feel shy about it.
I look up, meet his eyes, note the tilt of his chin, the thick of his scruff, the crinkles around his eyes (those, I love the most).
He’s siting next to our son, navy blue Twins cap pulled low, sweatshirt half-zipped, bar stool twisting beneath him. His fingers are wrapped around his favorite mug — the one he’s had longer than we’ve known each other. “Wow,” he says again.
I pause, splay my fingers on the counter between us, and face him.
The sun is bright and glows through the windows. Outside, winter melts in drips off of trees, the swing set, the roof.
Our kids clamor for their space in this routine. I hear their chatter, their spoon clangs, their sips in our background. But I focus in on Jason. “You’re pretty amazing right now.” He says. His voice is soft, his stance mirrors the feeling. “It’s really fun to watch you.”
And I, too, melt.
Not just because of his words or this pause or my mood, but because he complimented me on tasks that I do every single day without bars to measure against.
Am I doing this right? Did today go well? Who knows? I feel rushed and teetering and like while everything is happening and getting done, it could stop at any moment if I don’t keep movingpackingdirecting.
I’m a mess. My hair is curly, unruly, my glasses sit low on my nose (they always do; I’m not sure why), my cozy, slouchy, but admittedly sloppy pajamas are still on. But to him I’m “fun to watch” and this compliment goes straight to my heart. I soften, and find lift within it.
There’s a lot of worry about how we give compliments. They need to be specific, authentic, moderated. Not too much! Not too high!! Not too many exclamation points included!!! I’ve heeded these warnings, and even repeated them.
But I think I’m changing my tune.
When my children say, “You’re the best mommy ever!” I believe — and agree wholeheartedly with — them. We are, indeed, the perfect fit for each other. My answer is always, “Thank you, babe. And you’re my best ever.” And when in response they lean in close enough for me to smell their hair, see the glints of gold sparkle in their eyes, feel their sweaters or sweatshirts or mis-buttoned long-sleeves against my skin, I know we both soften and find our lifts within these compliments as well.
So I think that I’ve been worrying too much about how and if and whether I should compliment.
And rather, I should give compliments out like children do, like my husband did. With wild abandon and authenticity, when the moment grabs me and with as few or as many words as I really and truly feel and mean.
I lay with my daughters before bedtime (almost) every night. In contrast to the speed of our mornings, this time is slow, quiet, soft. Their heads rest on pillows bookended to my own, their fingers lay laced across their chests, the light of the moon kisses a glow onto their cheeks, their eyes, their freshly washed hair.
Last night, I was struck by how pretty and eloquent and funny they were and I told them, simply, unguardedly, just because. And I saw the softening, felt the lifting, and knew it was “right.”
When we gift compliments with wild abandon we give and receive softness.
We also send the message that we’re noticing other people’s small moments of goodness. And together, this smallness adds up to a universal lift and happiness. And suddenly, we’re people who don’t guard our kindness or brace ourselves when we’re about to hear commentary on our work. We’re people who see others — and ourselves — with kind eyes and kind words. And that? Is not so small anymore.
At allParenting I wrote about Alternatives to vegetable oil — have you tried to cut vegetable oil out of your cooking and baking? What do you use instead?
I also wrote about Things our kids will never know about. Remember film canisters and the excitement of getting doubles? How about phone booths and that quarter from mom “just in case” you needed to make a call?
What would you add to either one of my lists? Come weigh in at allParenting!