The Look

by Harley Rotbart
Originally Published: 

Recently, I got “the look.” It has been a while and it was spine-tingly, reminding me of when our kids were little and the looks were frequent and plentiful. If you’re a parent, you know the look I’m talking about. It’s that sidelong glance your kids give you when they are doing something they’re proud of, priceless peeks to wherever you’re sitting in the audience to make sure you’re watching. This is the look that has resulted in untold numbers of soccer goals being scored while the goalie was scanning the bleachers for her mommy or daddy. The look that gets little leaguers “doubled off” because they absent-mindedly wander away from the base, or forget to run to the next base, while checking if their parents noticed them get on base in the first place. The look your kids give you while taking a bow after their school play, piano recital, or perfect pirouette. And when they give you the look, it’s key that you be looking back, lest you miss the look and your child panics that you missed the whole reason for giving you the look. Kids know there are no instant replays.

This past spring, we were invited by a dear family friend to their grandson’s kindergarten “graduation” ceremony and looks were flying everywhere. Like every other capped and gowned mini-graduate, our friend’s grandson gave the look to his parents while standing in the queue for his diploma, again while receiving his diploma from the kindergarten teacher (whose hand he forgot to shake because he was too busy giving his parents the look), and yet again on arrival back at his seat. We knew just this one graduate, but as each of his classmates crossed the stage, we only needed to follow his or her laser-focused look to identify the proud parents in the audience.

Ours was a sports-obsessed home, and when our kids were little we anticpated many looks during each game or match. We always sat in the same spot in the bleachers to minimize the distraction of searching for us. As they got older, they tried to stifle the looks, to appear cool and unconcerned with what the family fans were thinking, but we caught them looking anyway. Fleeting checks from the corners of their eyes while bringing the ball down the basketball court or striding across the tennis court after serving an ace. For certain of the looks, I had a trademark response our kids came to expect: I held my right fist over my heart and tapped my chest a couple times, symbolizing…well I’m not absolutely sure what I was trying to convey. Probably heartfelt pride in their accomplishment. Or maybe it was a sign of gratitude for having healthy and happy kids, and for being blessed to witness their small triumphs. Or relief that we could offer a silver lining on the car ride home after an otherwise crushing defeat. Not every two-point basket or single up the middle earned a heart tap. Game winning 3-pointers and walk-off base hits usually did. Sometimes I added a flourish to the chest tap by pointing my finger at my young star, as if to say “this tap is for you.”

Our kids are grown and living away from home, so it’s rare for us to get the look these days. When our daughter was leaving for graduate school a couple years ago, she turned to wave before entering the airport security line and gave us the look. I choked up, and tapped my chest. When our oldest son took the oath for the New York State Bar, he gave us the look, and again I choked up and tapped my chest. A couple years earlier at his wedding he didn’t give us the look – he saved it for his wife. We forgave him.

Earlier this summer, as our youngest son marched in with hundreds of his classmates to receive his college diploma, he turned to us in the audience and gave us the look. This one was a prolonged look, a cumulative look for all the smaller achievements we missed seeing that led to this moment. As he met our eyes, he raised his hands in the air in a celebratory gesture, mouthing “thank you.” I gently tapped my chest, and pointed straight at him.

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