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Getting A Real "I Love You"

Since today is Valentine’s Day (a
made-up holiday if I ever saw one, and one Brian and I don’t
really celebrate but can’t avoid hearing about on all the
media) I’ve been thinking about hearing those three little
words, and how satisfying they are. Sure, getting them from your
spouse is great, but in a way it’s even better when an
unsolicited “I love you, Mommy” floats up from your

This was one of the more awkward things Brian and I had to teach
Maddie – how and when to say, “I love you!” I
mean, she hears it all the time from us, and eventually came to
understand what it meant to her, but she wasn’t able to put
words to those feelings in her little chest without our help.

I didn’t really think about this
until I saw Brian and Maddie snuggled on the couch about a year
ago. They were simply gazing contentedly at each other, faces close
together, little half smiles painted on each mouth. At one point
Maddie started happily stroking Brian’s face and you could
see the love in her eyes, and she sighed. Brian said,
“Maddie, when your heart feels full like this and you want to
tell someone what you’re feeling, you can say, ‘I love
you’.” Madeleine digested this and sighed, “Then
I love you, Daddy.”

It took a few more months for this to catch on spontaneously, but
now she says it regularly without prompting and it’s the
highlight to both our days. Just the other afternoon I was
snuggling with her post-nap and she took my face in both hands and
said, “Mommy, I really really love you.”

How can that not make you happy?

These expressions of love are all the sweeter for their imminent
expiration; I know that all too soon she’ll probably disdain
such spontaneous outpourings and become embarrassed by overt
sentiment. We’re working hard to keep that from happening,
making sure we are open about our feelings and tell her often
what’s in our hearts, but we know it’s almost
inevitable as kids go through that insecure, awkward stage.

For now, I try not to sound too grateful or excited when Maddie
casually waves her spoon over her cereal at breakfast and says,
“Hey Mommy, I love you!” I don’t want to make her
self-conscious any sooner than necessary, so try not to gloat over
each proclamation even as inside I’m screaming exultantly,
“Yes! My kid said it without bribes or wheedling! I must be a
good mommy after all!” I know she means it, and that her
heart has filled up and she wants to share it.

And that makes every day Valentine’s Day.


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