He took the picture, just like I always ask (OK, nag) him to. My toddler and I were reading books in bed, his head on my shoulder and arms intertwined with mine. Together, we read his favorite train book over and over. My husband snapped a shot of us in action and sent it to me.
There I was, in a beautiful moment, completely present with my child. Yet the picture on my screen filled me with tears and self-loathing.
I hated how big my stomach looked, still stretched from giving birth to our second child.
I hated that my hair was half done, because with two kids, a five-minute shower was a luxury, so doing my hair was out of the question.
I hated that I had on no makeup and you could see the dark circles under my eyes.
I hated my outfit, a mismatched scheme of maternity leggings, a stained nursing tank top, and a sweater.
I hated that picture in that moment. And I didn’t like myself very much either.
Eyes brimming with tears, I stared at it for longer than I would care to admit.
And then I saw it.
In the midst of the negative self-talk, I blinked. All along I had taught my children to care for themselves with empathy, kindness, and love, yet here I was doing the exact opposite. I had almost missed the point.
I missed that my stretched, squishy stomach was proof of my body’s strength and ability to give life to two little humans.
I missed that my hair was a mess and my makeup not done, yet my husband still saw beauty, both in the moment and in me, and he wanted to document it.
I missed that my outfit, while mismatched, held a story. My sweater clothed strong arms that held and rocked newborn babies when just a few years prior, they had ached empty. My leggings masked legs that could run and dance with my toddler in the living room. My stained nursing shirt concealed the beauty of being able to feed and nourish my child.
But what I really missed was the moment.
I was so caught up in my own self-criticism that I missed the curly haired boy in firetruck pajamas next to me, his head against my shoulder. I missed his feeling of complete safety, knowing he was wholly loved and cared for in the world. I missed the fact that to him, I was everything: his protector, his comfort, his home. I was the one who cared enough to read to him each night, a seemingly small thing to me, but a huge thing to him.
This moment wasn’t social media perfect. It wasn’t ideally captured and perfectly captioned. But it mattered.
Years from now, I can look back at my stretchy stomach and mismatched outfit and smile. Smile at the triumph, sorrow, defeat, chaos, and joy that is motherhood.
And I can remember a little boy, who by that time will be all grown up, who saw nothing but beauty, love, and safety in his mama.
And that is exactly the point worth seeing.