Saturday, February 13, 2016

"I Love You" Rules Our House

It's February, and the month in which love is celebrated.

For many parents with special needs children, hearing the words "I love you" can mean the world. There are countless inspirational stories written by parents about how many years they've waited just to hear those words from their child, who before was nonverbal or lacked language skills. I have to admit, I get teary eyed reading them. It is a wonderful thing to hear your child say these magical words.

But can it be possible to actually loathe them? Let me tell you a funny little story about my daughter...

My 12-year-old is on the autism spectrum. When she was around 7 or 8 years old, she began displaying vocal tics (and motor tics, or movements) and mild Tourette's was added to her list of diagnoses. She seemed to have certain words she would repeat often, and movements as well. It was like she had an electrical current running through her body, and she couldn't feel better or release that energy until she said certain things or moved a certain way. That's the only way I can describe it.

Over the ensuing years, she had many different vocal tics that would come and go, but one that has stuck like glue is "I love you." (I first wrote about it on my own blog here.)

A typical conversation with my daughter would go like this:

J: "Mommy, can I have some juice?"

Me: "Sure, J."

J: "I love you."

Me: "I love you, too."

Immediately following any question/comment/suggestion made by her to me (and sometimes her dad) she says, "I love you." Sweet, right? But do you know how much J talks to us during the day? A LOT. And if I don't say "I love you" back, she cannot go forward with anything else. I must reply to allow that electric energy to be released.

For a time, she was saying this to her younger brother also, and if he did not respond the first time, she would repeat with more urgency, "I love you!", waiting for a reply. If it took a third time, well, she'd be full-on angry, yelling "I love you" and even resorting to hitting him for an answer. I never thought I'd have to break up fights between my kids because one of them was saying "I love you" in a mean way! Oh, the irony!

I love that she feels the need to say "I love you" at the end of every single conversation with me, but I have to be honest, hearing it so much does wear on my nerves! Yes, I know she really, really, really loves me. But is there some underlying reason that she's saying it so much to me? Does that internal energy of hers sense that I don't always love her?

For a while, after this phrase became very commonplace, I began to second guess myself as a parent. Maybe she's saying this so much because she feels like I DON'T love her? Maybe she's saying it more like a question, to see if I really do love her and will respond the same? Maybe I'm not showing her enough love, and she has to remind me often that she loves me so I can remember how much I love her, but don't say it as much?

There was a time, almost 2 years ago, at a special church broadcast with other moms and daughters, where I really felt the spirit of the evening through the wonderful speakers and I felt an overwhelming joy in just being her mother. I could feel the love for her more than I'd ever felt before. And she must have sensed it somehow, because during the entire meeting, she kept saying "I love you" to me over and over again, and I replied every time, not with aggravation or an eye roll, but with tears rolling down my cheeks. In fact, I didn't want her to stop saying it. She doesn't like it when I cry, either, but in that moment I think she understood. I will always cherish this memory.

Regardless of how I feel, Julianna is keeping the love in our family alive. Perhaps she knows how challenging things can get in our household, and it's her little way of reminding all of us just how much she loves us. Yes, at times, I still get frustrated hearing it every 10 minutes, and yes, I've come up with ways to make replying to her easier when it becomes too much (signing "I love you" with my hand) but you know what? If it's the one thing she's going to tell me all day, every day, for the rest of her life, I'm happy. She loves me, no matter what, no matter how much I mess up, or get upset, or break down. Her love will keep me going.

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