On Tuesday, October 17, 2017, at 11:15 a.m., my daughter told me she loved me for the first time.
I went to pick her up from the nursery at the church where the Mothers of Preschoolers group in which I participate meets. When she spotted me, she came running and gave me the tightest hug and said, clear as day, "I lub you." I was in a little bit of disbelief, as she had copied us saying it before but had never declared it spontaneously, so I waited for her to say it again. And she said, once again, "I lub you!" I told her that I loved her too, of course, and then asked her to put the Big Bird toy she was holding (the one she starts talking about as soon as we pull into the parking lot of the church) back where she found it. She put it right back, first time asked! Let me tell you folks, we are not at the communication level where this happens consistently yet. In that moment I was just so dern proud and happy and warm inside. Even though I know that she loves me, for her to be able to tell me and really seem like she knew what it meant, it was so huge. It was like, in the two hours we'd been apart, there had been a slight shift in her ability to comprehend and articulate feelings and thoughts, and we were both made aware of it in this perceptible way that is difficult to explain but that felt very real.
It may seem like a silly thing to write a whole post about; I just have to remember forever all the little details: the tiny arms squeezing my neck, me trying to hold back tears in a public place, her thin baby hair against my cheek. She's always worth the dirty diapers, limited free time, and messy living room, but in those seconds it was like my whole life made sense and I knew I was doing okay at this mom thing.
As I sat by her crib last night and she begged me to, "hold you," I tried to remember that perfect moment. We've never sleep trained and I'm slowly trying to get her used to falling asleep on her own, which usually goes great. Her bedtime routine works like a charm, and sometimes she doesn't even want to finish reading Goodnight Moon and singing our rocking chair songs - she just wants to go right upstairs and get in her crib. Last night, however, she had no interest in going to sleep, so I tried to stay near her and comfort her without giving in and letting her doze off in my arms. I was working so hard to be comfortable with letting her share her feelings without allowing them to dictate my actions. I acknowledged her, over and over again, and told her that I was nearby but that it was bedtime and she needed to rest. The crying continued, off and on, for almost an hour. When I finally caved and picked her up, she was sitting up on her knees staring at me and crying in a desperate way I've rarely heard her cry. As I held her, she melted into me and fell asleep almost immediately. She continued to snooze soundly after I gently put her back in her crib. As I walked downstairs after, I was almost sick to my stomach. In those low times, it's so easy to convince myself that I'm doing everything wrong.
She slept like a rock, as she usually does lately, and woke up this morning calling for me happily. Like every morning, she smiled and hopped up and down when I walked into her room. I realized I'd been worried all night that her feelings toward me may have changed somehow - that by not scooping her up right away when she cried for me last night that I had chipped away at our bond, made her trust me less.
I read somewhere this week (I apologize for not remembering where) that what "good" mothers give their children, more than anything, is a sense of security. Their children may not comprehend what "security" means, but they would feel it if they didn't have it. I was there in the dark beside my daughter last night, and even if I had left the room, as I sometimes have to do, she would still know I would never truly leave her. She is protected and cherished, and, from her toddler perspective, I'll always be able to keep her safe.
She felt the same love for me last night as she did on Tuesday morning, and I felt the same love for her, too. I was just having to show it in a different way.
To all my mama friends out there, I have no doubt that your babies feel completely safe, and they know you love them, so much. And they love you with everything they have, even if they can't tell you yet.