I don't hear the words "I love you" from The Boy very often. I prompt him to say many things. But those three words? Never. I don't want them to be forced, I don't want them to sound rote. I want him to say it when he means it.
Every night when putting him to bed, after kissing him goodnight, after reading him a story and kissing him goodnight again, I tell The Boy that I love him. I usually repeat it. Holding his face with both hands so that he can see my face and hopefully look me in the eye. Sometimes he repeats it. Sometimes he doesn't. Sometimes he gives me a kiss and asks me to "go away" because he wants "Daddy to read another story." Sometimes he skips the kiss.
I can count the times since he's started really talking in the last two years that he's said "I love you" spontaneously.
Last winter, at around 6 am on a weekday morning. I was calling out sick for work because I had been up with him all night nursing his fever. He was in our bed, barely awake, his cheeks flushed red. I pressed a cold washcloth on his forehead. I smiled at him. At how calm and still he was. A small part of me likes when he's sick. Every mother likes to be needed. And I savor the moments when The Boy is calm and still and lets me stroke his hair or sits beside me while I read a story. He pushed the washcloth away. His eyes were starting to close and right before he fell asleep, he whispered "I love you."
Three weeks ago, Sunday I was sitting (w-sitting actually) on The Boy's bed reading a story. The Boy dropped a toy behind the bed and wanted me to get it. Major klutz that I am, scooted back (still in w-sitting position) to get up. Instead I fell backward on the floor, flat on my backside. I screamed out in pain and The Husband hurried in to help me up. The Boy, seeing me pain, started to cry. With real tears and I had to get up to console him and reassure him I was okay. He put his arms around me, buried his wet face in my neck and sobbed "I love you."
This morning, The Boy and I are standing waiting for the school bus. And he's having a hard time standing still. I'm trying to make conversation. But The Boy is busy watching the pidgeons. He suddenly throws his arms around me and asks for a hug. I gave him a squeeze. And then he said, "I love you Mama." So sweetly and so appropriately as if he just made the connection between the action and verbal expression. Maybe he did. I picked up The Boy (no easy task since he's about 52 lbs) and squeezed him again. Kissed him on his cheeks about twenty times before putting him back down.
As the bus pulled up, I kissed him again, handed him his bookbag and said goodbye. He got on the bus without looking back and without saying goodbye.
So many parents take those three words for granted. Some parents, wrapped up in their own chaotic day to day, ignore these declarations of love. Me? I have to cherish each and every time because I'll never know when, where or why I'll hear them next.