In my daughter’s eight years of life, she’s only ever said the words “I Love You” as a recited response. Having Autism makes it hard for her to connect with us emotionally in the ways we’re used to. She loves us in her own special way…a certain look in her eyes, the ways she’ll touch us sometimes, the activities she’ll share with us…if she’s having an exceptionally good day, we may even get an unsolicited hug! (Those days leave me beaming; those are the days that get me through the bad days.) Sometimes, in small ways, she’ll let us in. Most of the time, our little girl is in her own little world.
Overall, I live in a constant state of longing. Longing for engaged, back-and-forth conversation with my child. Longing to hold her for more than a moment or two without her pulling away. Longing to feel that she loves me, not just to know it. Longing to hear her say those precious words, all on her own…longing for my child to say, “I Love You, Mommy” and mean it.
Tonight, I gave her a sticker for her reward chart that said, “I Love You” on it. I smiled down at her and read it aloud, taking the chance to try and connect. She held the sticker in her hand and then out of her mouth came a tone I rarely hear from her. What is typically a more flat, robotic voice was replaced by a sincere, sweet sound that’s still echoing in my mind…
“I love Ashley.”
She meant it. For the very first time, she meant it…but she didn’t mean it for me. She didn’t even mean it for someone in our family. Ashley is one of my daughter’s therapists. Her favorite. The recipient of her very first, true “I Love You”. Though we do see our therapists as an extended family, this situation left my heart bleeding.
I’m thankful. I am. I’m thankful that my daughter, who we weren’t sure would ever be able to put her emotions into words, is doing just that. I’m thankful that she’s my child; that I’ve been blessed enough to know her, raise her, and love her…but it still hurts. Maybe it’s selfish, but it’s what I’m feeling right now. I want to feel that she loves me because on the hard days, which come more frequently than the good ones, the moments of true connectedness that I have with my daughter fuel me. They are what I cling to when she’s in meltdown mode and I’m in survival mode. Those moments make all of the other moments worth it.
In time, I’ll put this pain in the same place I do all of the other hurts: in the hands of God. I’ll bring Him the ache and He’ll give it a purpose…but, tonight, “I Love You” hurts.