Your dad and I just returned from our now annual trip to Mexico without you because my parents are amazing and watched you for a whole week so we could have some time to fall asleep at 9.00 and wake up at 8.00 and listen to nothing except the sound of the waves. I read four books in five days, which is more than I’ve read in the past year. I missed you last year too and I still clearly remember walking into the house to see you still warm and red from your nap and you called out, “Mama!” and my heart clenched because I had actually forgotten in just five and 1/2 days exactly how your voice sounded. This year, you were much more aware of the fact we were leaving. So much so that you volunteered that you were, “worried about us leaving and were going to cry a lot.” You were also quite concerned that we were not going to come back and so I promised, of course we were coming back and that we would talk to you on the computer so you could see us and chat. You love a good Skype chat. But I missed you even more this year than I thought possible. One of the books I read during the week described the author sitting on her mother’s lap each evening after dinner and I wanted nothing more in that moment than to hold you in my lap and smell your hair and feel you wiggling to get comfortable. I missed your laughs and your funny hand gestures when you want us to follow you. I missed driving around in the car listening to Pumped Up Kicks with you because it is your favorite song at the moment. I know it is a crazy violent song but you sing all the wrong words so I am certain you don’t get the meaning at all.
But I missed you so much I had a panic attack on the last day of our trip. Not a full blown panic attack, but close enough to the one I’ve had once in my life to know that my stomach wasn’t just hurting from something I ate and my head wasn’t spinning because I was possibly dehydrated. It suddenly struck me that I missed you horribly and I told your dad that with a catch in my voice and he knew I wasn’t being flip and said, “I miss him too.” When you were a baby I never had that panicky desire to come running back to you the moment you left my side. I remember Annie Lamott in Operating Instructions talking about the “jungle drums” beating in her ears as she attempts to go to a movie a few months after her son is born. I never had that happen and always wondered what was wrong with me. Even now as you trot off to school each day I don’t feel disoriented without you. But there, so far from home, after not seeing you for five days, I missed you more than I have ever missed you in my life. And as sick as I felt, it was a kind of shock tempered by relief. Relief that I am so unbearably lucky to have you as my son and your dad as my husband. And finally coming home to you the next day and being greeted with your huge hugs and your exclamations for the next three days, “I am SO glad you are home Mama and Dad!” made things feel better too.
I also want to tell you that I love you, which is not anything new, but bears repeating, hourly if necessary. I wish you could read this and know that I love you. That Dad loves you. That we love you beyond belief. Beyond all reason. That we will love you no matter what (my only caveat being that if you decided to go to BYU we will disown you.)
Your first response now if I yell about something, anything is, “But I still love you Mama,” or “Can you smile happily please Mama?” It is like the sharpest knife to my heart every time you say it. I know you are just trying to neutralize the situation as fast as you can but it makes me feel utterly awful about everything. It makes me feel even worse because I know exactly how you are feeling. You are so much a product of your dad and me that you have inherited our ridiculous inability to deal with conflict. Conflict makes me want to run and hide. The first whiff of conflict sends me crawling up a tree trying to distance myself from it and trying to calm myself down enough to know that one fight does not end a marriage or a friendship. One disagreement over where the flour should go in the kitchen is not going to end the world. But I am 37 and I still have this immediate flight reaction to conflict. And yet with this inability to deal with conflict also comes this complete lack of patience and lightening fast reaction to anything I find annoying.
So, I find myself over and over in situations where I am really angry with you because you have not listened to what I have asked you to do 87,947 times in a row. Or you have asked me the same question over and over and I have given the same answer and I am simply tired of trying to explain that a bus is just a bus and there is nothing more I can say to answer your question, “But Mama, why is a bus a bus?” I am certain that one day your philosophy professor in college will be thrilled with your insistence on getting to the bottom of this existential question, but I am not a philosophy professor, I am just your mom. A mom who just wants you to put on your jacket and get your backpack and walk out to the car. Is that so difficult? I won’t answer that because I know that every parent reading this knows that it is that hard to do something that simple.
But I hear your sweet voice saying, “But I still love you Mama,” and I torn in two. I am still angry – sometimes justifiably – and yet you are forcing me to swallow my anger and reassure you that I do love you. And I absolutely hate that you have worried for even a second that I don’t love you. It kills me to think that you worry I don’t care about you. If this is toddler manipulation, it is the very worst form of it because it goes to my worst fears.
I am taking a photography class this month and taking a photo each day of something that corresponds to a letter of the alphabet. It has been very difficult not to just take a picture of you or something related to you since the ratio of Luke to non Luke photos in my iPhoto album must be about 10 to 1. I have done pretty well forcing myself out of my comfort zone but I slipped back to you as a subject a few nights ago. S for sleeping. I think I only have one or two other photos of you sleeping and they are from when you were very small mostly because the fear of waking you up is far greater than my need to document you sleeping. This one I will treasure forever because this is what you look like most nights: your cheeks flushed, Lion tucked under you, your arms and legs all over the place. You are warm and quiet and I whisper to you over and over I love you little bear, sweet dreams little bear, tucking the blankets around you. I am so glad I took the risk of waking you just to remember this particular moment.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
Please know that and remember it always.