During a recent trip to my parents’ house, I was lounging about, nursing the baby in my old childhood bedroom, unrecognizable now with sunset-colored walls and framed vintage travel prints where there used to be smudges and a sizable shrine to the Backstreet Boys. I could hear snippets of conversation wafting up the stairs from the living room where my mother, dubbed “Mimi” by our three year-old, my husband, and son were playing. “I don’t like Mommy. I just like Daddy,” a little voice chirped, matter-of-factly. My ears sharpened. “That’s not very nice,” I heard someone say. Again, “I don’t like Mommy.” Tears sprang to my eyes involuntarily and thus, I received my first emotional gut punch at the hands of my child.

For as long as he’s been alive, my son has preferred my husband. I get it. He and I see each other all day and as such, have ample opportunities to get sick of one another. Mommy is always ruining his life by not letting him do awesome stuff like coloring on his face with black marker or cutting up his clothes with the kitchen shears. Daddy is fun! He turns the living room into a wrestling arena and can accurately draw all the characters from Shrek on the Magna Doodle. It’s not a competition, but I have to admit I’m a little envious of the overjoyed, beaming child that flies into my husband’s arms when he gets home from work.

My mother gently reminded me, early on, when my feelings would get hurt, “Mothers get the short end of the stick.” I guess we figure we can heap as much abuse on them as we want and they’ll still love us. Hearing my child say he didn’t like me was a slap in the face. I wanted to run down the stairs and yell, “I carried you for nine months! I put my life on hold for you! I’ve sacrificed my body, time with my husband, and countless hours of sleep for you! I would gouge someone’s eyes out if they ever tried to hurt you and you don’t like me?!” But, of course, you can’t say that to a three year-old. Of all the things you can’t make your children understand, unconditional love may be the most maddening.

Nothing is more obnoxious than when some self-righteous uber mom smarms at you, “You won’t understand until you have children,” but, in this case, Uber Mom is right. It’s not an insult. It’s simply a fact. I remember being at the mall with my mom when I was a kid and hearing a security guard yell, “Stop or I’ll shoot” at a thief as they both went tearing by. With no hesitation whatsoever, my mother flattened me against the wall of a shoe store, human shield-style. Even as an eight year-old, I was floored. That kind of love is indescribable and is only able to be repaid by experiencing it with your own child. They will puke in your hair at the grocery store and you will clean them up first. They will scream that they hate you because they don’t want to put their shoes on and you will not sell them to pirates. That is love. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I get it now.