Last night at bedtime, after we read a story and said our prayers, I spent a few extra minutes sitting on E’s bed with him.
Like he does every night, he made a “nest” in his bed. He surrounded himself with all his stuffed animals, pulled his ever-present blue blankie close to his face, and snuggled deep under the covers.
I sat there watching him for a few minutes, my arm draped across him to apply the little extra pressure that helps to calm him. It was a moment I didn’t want to let go of.
This was his last night as a 4-year-old, and I wasn’t ready to turn out the lights on what had been an intense and life-changing year.
At first I couldn’t figure out why I was being so emotional. But as I leaned over to whisper “I love you” in his ear, it hit me.
He has never said the words “I love you” back.
He will wake up tomorrow as a 5-year-old, and in his first five years he hasn’t been able to process or verbalize the words, “I love you, Mommy.”
In my heart I know without a doubt that he loves me. I do. Because love is in actions, in looks, in the sweet backwards hugs he gives me when he sees me upset. It’s when he grabs my hand because he knows I’m a safe place.
The yearning to HEAR the words out of his mouth does not diminish, though.
This morning the yearning is still there. It’s not just my yearning; I think it’s the yearning of every parent’s heart to hear their child say “I love you.” So, I will.
First, I send a text to my Mom that says simply, “I love you, Mom. I want to make sure you know that today.”
Second, I close my eyes and whisper to my heavenly Father: “I love you. I know I don’t say that enough, and I’m sorry. Your heart must long to hear it just like mine does, if not more. Please forgive me for not using the words You’ve given me the ability to speak. I do love you, God, with my whole heart. On days you can see it readily and days when you can’t, please know that I love you. And help me to do better at showing it.”
I’m crying as I choke out the last of my prayer, faced with the realization that the pain I’m feeling from not hearing “I love you” from my son is the same pain I’ve inflicted on my Father.
My thoughts are interrupted by a knock at the door. The babysitter is here to watch the kids for a few hours while I tend to some meetings for work. I wipe my tears away quickly as I open the door.
She greets me with a big smile, her look lingering for a moment when she sees my red eyes. As I turn away to kiss the kids goodbye and grab my things she offers cheerfully, “Don’t worry about us! We’re going to do a fun project today! The kids will have a surprise for you when you get back!”
After a busy few hours and a quick stop at the store to pick up some birthday balloons, I’m headed back home. It’s a rare night where my husband will be able to be home at dinnertime, so we’re going to celebrate E’s birthday tonight with cake, balloons and presents.
Hustling in the door I’m anxious to see the kid’s reaction when they see the balloons, and their excitement doesn’t disappoint. In the midst of it, I’ve forgotten all about the “surprise” the babysitter promised, until I notice a big yellow paper in E’s hand, hanging down as he stares up at the balloons.
“What do you have there, buddy?” I ask.
“What do you have there, buddy?” I ask.
“Oh! That’s the surprise we made for you today!” says the babysitter. “E, show Mommy what you made for her,” she coaxes him.
E turns to me and holds up the paper in his hands. My jaw drops and tears spring to my eyes.
The paper is entitled “Five Reasons Why I Love My Mommy.”
The babysitter chimes in, “We traced his hand and then I asked him to tell me five things he loves about you. It took some time for him to get all this out, but the words on the page are the exact words he used.”
My eyes jump to the words, “I love her.” The words flood my heart and fill in the cracks I was feeling the pain of last night and this morning.
If those words are on that paper it means he verbalized them, like the babysitter said. My heart leaps. It’s only a matter of time until he says those words out loud to me then, I think.
E leans his head toward me, trying to give me his version of a hug.
It is his birthday and I know the presents should all be for him, but as I hug him I know I got the best present today.
Love. Love without words.
Love that heals.