I love you.
Those were the words I said rather loudly to my seven year old Samuel as he stood by his window with his fingers smashed into his ears as he tried to avoid hearing me talk.
I love you no matter what, Sam. Even when you’re mad at me. Even when you make poor choices.
I will always love you.
He didn’t want to hear it.
Not one bit. He wanted to stand there and throw his tantrum by the window. All because I said no milk right now. All of the theatrics over not getting his glass of milk right before bed. I know, I know, I’m wondering why I said no, but once I did I knew I needed to stick with it.
Yet tonight, when I said those simple I love you words my eyes filled with tears and my heart ached. Not in that bad ache, not in the ache of being tired, but in this ache that this moment was the reality of motherhood. Saying I love you no matter what when someone is being mean to you, defiant or angry at you is what ultimately motherhood means.
My oldest daughter will be twenty-one this summer.
It feels like just yesterday when I was telling her the same thing – those I love you no matter what words – and now, now she’s grown.
Sometimes I look back at her childhood and all I can see are the gaps. I see the places where I messed up or the vacations that weren’t taken. I see the times where I forgot and where I lost my temper and all the places I wish I had done more.
Motherhood, motherhood, motherhood.
Who knew it was about loving no matter what?
It seemed like it was just going to be about keeping them safe, educating them and doing the fun stuff. And yet so much of it is really this deep tenacity and bravery to say I love you to little, middles and bigs who are pushing every single button of yours at the same time.
It’s such a place of finding self, losing self and discovering strength.
It’s strength. A deep strength that you have – every single day. It’s a strength that makes you keep going, that helps you deal with the drama of cutting a PBJ the wrong way, that helps you uncover the lost shoes moments before you go, that makes you get up before the sun breaks the horizon. It’s a strength to shut down all the thoughts of failing, not measuring up and to keep going.
I love you no matter what.
Don’t ever forget that power, that gift, that image of you, of motherhood, of strength. Because even though you fall, even though you’ll forget stuff – you do your best. So I started to think back to the years with my oldest and I tole myself to start to see the good. And you know what? I remembered things. Not these gigantic things, but little things. Like a watermelon looking cake for her 8th birthday or ballet shoes and tying ribbons or the first pictures she took or taking selfies in Ikea and then saying goodbye to her in Seattle on her dorm campus while tears fell from my eyes.
You know what she told me?
I knew you’d cry, mom. And I love you.
No matter what.
So today, pull up those boot straps, hug your kids, and tell them those words that you live by every single day.
I love you no matter what.