Last week, a mother visited the preschool classroom that I work in to read a story to the children.
Before she began reading, she held up the book for the class to see. She pointed out that the cover was bent and the pages were worn. She told the class that all of her own children had loved this book. She smiled at her son, sitting directly in front of her, and said, "We still read this one almost every night." This boy, not quite four, was the youngest of her brood of six. No wonder this book looked so battered.
The book, titled, I Love You, Stinky Face! told the story of a boy who asks his mother if she would love him if....
He were a terrible monster with great, big fangs
He were a creature who lived in a swamp
He were a skunk who smelled so awful that his name was "Stinky Face"
To each question, the mother lovingly reassures that she will always love her child.
She will love him forever.
No matter what.
She will take care of him
Be there for him under any circumstance.
As this mother read the book to a group of captivated children, I recalled when my own children were that young. When, after a bath, we would snuggle under the covers and read. When Miss J and I would have our playful banter of "I love you more than you love me!" When I smothered them with kisses and pulled their ever growing bodies onto my lap and told them that no matter how big they got, they would always be MY babies.
And now my girl, my baby, is almost eleven.
My girl who is looking for a little bit more space and a little freedom. My girl who has begun to test the boundaries and who rolls her eyes and slams doors. My girl who is less and less a little girl with each day that passes. My girl who is morphing into someone new with her own thoughts and ideas and opinions.
I wonder what the sequel to this book would be if it were written for an adolescent tween....a teenager...an adult child. As Miss J grows, if she were to come to me and say....
I failed my test
I failed the class
I was suspended
I don't want to go to college
I got drunk
I smoked a joint
I had sex
I got a tattoo
I'm giving up religion
I got fired
I'm getting a divorce
Will I have the courage and the sense in the midst of such a scenario to tell her I still love her? Will those words come through loud and clear, straight through my own feelings of anger, disappointment, betrayal? Will I still tell her I love her when her choices are irresponsible and do not align with my hopes for her?
It is easy to love them when they are small and sweet with chubby baby cheeks and soft skin. It is easy when they draw you pictures and give you handwritten Mother's Day cards and dandelion bouquets. It is easy when they wander into your bed with tousled hair and sleepy eyes seeking out the warmth and comfort only you can provide. It is easy when they plant sticky kisses on you and believe that you hung the moon.
It gets harder when they are sullen and moody and when they roll their eyes and let out long dramatic sighs. It is harder when homework gets blown off and the room is a mess and when they pick at the meal you've prepared or when you have to tell them, no, you cannot go out until your chores and homework are done. It is harder when they tell you that you don't understand or look at you as if you know nothing at all. It gets harder when they challenge your rules, your ways, your ideals. It gets harder when they seem to want to be with their friends more than they do with you.
And when it gets even harder, as I expect it will, I hope I never assume that she knows I love her. I hope remember to tell her in the midst of whatever unpleasant or unexpected situation she may be facing:
No matter what you say, not matter what you do...I love you.
I hope I tell her often. I hope she hears it. I hope she knows it. Always.