I remember when the boys were babies, exaggerating the formation of all my letters as I said loud and slowly “I looooooove yooooooou” like a deranged sloth. Oliver just stared at me before giggling. Harry, unable to maintain eye contact, just looked bored and I was left to hope that he had at least heard my declaration if nothing else.
I don’t remember the first time Oliver said it back to me. I do know it would have made my heart melt and all those hours of oral gymnastics (does that sound wrong to anyone else?!) worthwhile!
I constantly tell Oliver that I love him; every day when I drop him off at school, at the end of every phone call when we aren’t together and every evening before I turn out his bedroom light and he always says it back to me. Sometimes, at the height of his anxiety he will yell for me so that he can locate me from the direction of my voice and then with relief in his own voice he’ll say “oh nothing. Love you!” which made me smile the first time but drove me mad 20 times a day at one point. For Oliver, ‘I love you’ is not only his way of softening the blow of relentless location requests but its his way of showing me that he appreciates me and that we have a relationship different from that which he has with many other people. I tell him that I love him so that he knows he is treasured and special to me and my heart. ‘I love you’ reaffirms our bond and reminds Oliver that he is my boy and that I am incredibly proud of him.
Those three little words are so important and while I do believe that actions speak louder than words it can be incredibly hard never to hear them at all.
Harry has never told me that he loves me of his own accord.
He shows me in his own way; by stroking my back and calling me a suitcase usually. As his language develops he has started instructing me with “Mummy, sit down” so that he can drape his legs across me and claim me as his own. His latest habit is to stroke me and say “Veeeery cosy” as if I am a woolly jumper. I don’t mind. I’ve been called worse. But he has never looked at me the way that Oliver does and said “I love you mummy”.
It really shouldn’t matter. But it does.
I tell Harry that I love him at least 5 times a day. When he wakes, as he leaves for school, cuddling and playing once he’s home, as he settles off to sleep. Sometimes his reply is deafening silence. Sometimes he giggles and sometimes he simply echoes my declaration even going so far as to repeat his own name. On those occasions I have to correct him with “No, Harry says I love you mummy” which he will then repeat. Its sweet but it’s also a little bit like the deflated feeling you have when you have to explain why the brilliant joke you just told was funny. The magic is lost for a moment.
And as much as they are just words, they have a power within them. Of course, it’s a power that can be abused. My natural father often told my mum he loved her as he headed out of the door to meet a secret mistress so don’t think I’m a sucker for a well delivered one liner. If anything, I am a sceptic when it comes to ‘I love you’ in a relationship but it carries a different weight when it comes from your children. ‘I love you’ makes up for all the tantrums, the tears, the hair pulling frustration and nail biting tension of being a parent. Its like a verbal eraser of all things tricky and testing. So much power in those three little words.
But what do they mean to Harry? Does he hear my words in the same way that he hears my instructions to put his shoes on or eat his toast? Are they just sounds that I make or does he actually understand the sentiment behind the sentence? I dearly want him to know how much I adore him in the same way that Oliver knows without a shadow of a doubt that he is my greatest achievement in life but I have no way of knowing if he does or ever will.
Oliver often feels sad that Harry never spontaneously tells him that he loves him and only ever repeats Oliver when he says it first. I reassure him that I am sure that Harry does love him very much and that with patience and perseverance one day Harry will surprise him.
Recently, he did just that. Cuddled on the sofa together, Harry simply said “I wuv you” as Oliver kissed his head. Oliver’s eyes lit up and we smiled at each other. Three little words that meant the world to a big brother desperate for some confirmation that his precious brother feels the same way. A winning lottery ticket equivalent of sibling affection.
My hope is restored. Harry has told Oliver that he loves him without needing to hear it first which means that he could say it to me too one day. He could surprise me and make my year with three little words that would tell me so much more than just “I love you”. They would tell me that he knew our bond was special, that he appreciated me and hopefully that he wouldn’t forget me when I’m no longer here (one of the three reasons why I cant die blog I wrote). For a non verbal child, the words they choose to say are so incredibly significant. They are chosen on purpose. Each word has a mission. One day I hope Harry’s mission is to let me know that hes as glad I’m his mum as I am thrilled that hes my son.
Until then I will continue to tell both of my boys how much I love them, accept that being called a suitcase is as close as it gets for now to a reply and find comfort in three very different little words “cheese and gin”.