At the personal development workshop, we paired up to do a “What I love about you” exercise. After practicing in pairs with other workshop participants, we were asked to choose someone outside the workshop and do the exercise with them that evening.

I chose to do the exercise with Teddy, my 7-year-old son. I called him up, and explained that I was going to talk for a while about what I loved about him. And when I finished, his job was to say, “Thank you, I know.”

I began:

“What I love about you is everything. What I love about you is how creative and inventive you are. What I love about you is how kind you are to our animals and your friends. What I love about you is how hard you work to learn things that interest you. What I love about you is your passion for perfect grammar…”

For 90 seconds, I riffed on mommy love and my son listened on the other end. When it was his turn, he dutifully said, “Thank you, I know,” and we said goodbye.

When I got home from the workshop and picked up Teddy from his father’s home, the first thing he wanted to know was, “What was that thing we did on the phone while you were gone?”

“Oh, you mean the ‘What I love about you’ exercise?” I answered.

“Yeah,” he responded, “Why did you do that? What was it for?”

“It was to give you practice hearing how lovable you are,” I explained.

“Oh. Well, how did you remember all of those things? Did you write down a list and memorize it?” he wanted to know.

“My love, I could talk for hours about what I love about you without needing to look at a list. It’s all right in here,” I said, pressing my heart. “Did you like hearing all the things I loved about you?”

“Yes,” he said simply.

The next day on our dog walk, I asked Teddy if he wanted to hear more about what I loved about him. He said no.

“Ok. What about the rest of our family? Would you like to hear what I love about Daddy or Taylor (Teddy’s step-mother) or Mark (my boyfriend)?”

Teddy wanted to hear about all three, starting with Daddy. So I riffed out loud for a few minutes with a nonstop stream of “What I love about Daddy is…” statements. Teddy’s face got brighter and brighter as he took in all of my appreciation for and admiration of his father, my ex-husband and co-parent. The truth is, it filled me up, too. I had so much good to say about this man I had worked so hard to reinvent a collaborative friendship with. As the flood of words came through, I became a third-person narrator observing myself, noticing that this young boy’s mother had healed her heart well.

Teddy chose Taylor next. I may have gone on for five minutes about how grateful I am for my son’s other mother, this woman I did not choose who is thankfully someone I respect, admire, truly enjoy, and have come to consider family. Tears were pouring down my cheeks as I spoke, and my chest physically hurt from the press of this third, cherished parent in my heart. Teddy was half-skipping now, his cheeks flushed and his eyes a little shy as they are when I am celebrating him. He recognized that he was at the center of all this love.

“Now, Marky!!” he shouted with glee once I had declared, “What I love about Taylor is everything.”

This time, Teddy started chiming in things he didn’t want me to forget to love about Mark as I started rattling off my beloved’s fine qualities and contributions to our hearts and our family. We volleyed our love of Mark back and forth all the way home.

I don’t know if I’ve ever spent a better ten minutes with my son. Declaring my position as a mother he could count on to love and appreciate the rest of his parents, in great specificity and with heartfelt enthusiasm, broke something open in me. A split seam where my sense of self had expanded toward greater integration.

This larger version of me unlocked the front door as we moved into the rest of our day.