“Hey Mama. Will you give me a special treat? Guess why–’cause you love me?”
Now tell me, please, how does an almost-three-year-old brain do the complex manipulations it takes to make putty out of a grown adult? Because all it took was that one sentence and first I melted, then I bubbled, then I just went ahead and wound myself a bit tighter around that little girl’s finger.
“What kind of special treat were you thinking of?” I queried.
“More Dora,” came the quick reply from Dora the Explorer’s greatest fan.
It’s one of my greatest challenges of parenthood: knowing how to say “I love you” in a way that means something. In this case, I felt trapped in the troubling logic of Little Friend’s equation that if I didn’t give her a special treat I must not love her.
If love were really that easy, this child would be showered in lollipops, rice krispie treats, purple tutus, and episode after episode of Dora.
But it seems to me that “I love you” sometimes sounds like “No.”
…Like when someone has watched two hours of Dora in one day and another twenty minutes might actually cause brain cavities.
It’s the way God’s love works, don’t you think? He gives us everything we need and only some things we want. He keeps us stretching, working, hoping. “No” can humble us, teach us patience, realign our priorities. I know there are times when I have my heart set on my 31-years equivalent of Dora the Explorer. I think, “Surely God will do this one thing for me out of His infinite love.” And when the short, two-letter answer comes, I pout. Just like my three-year-old counterpart.
If I’m honest with myself, “No” is sometimes the best answer I could receive, because given all “Yes’s”, I’d never be truly satisfied. Today’s “Yes” can’t always cover tomorrow’s need. In fact, if I hear enough “Yes’s,” I stop hearing the “I love you” behind them and instead just hear my own covetous desires. There’s truth in the cliché “too much of a good thing.”
So how do I say “I love you” to a three-year-old?
Sometimes “Yes” truly is the best way to say “I love you.” Sometimes not. In this instance, I opted for “No” accompanied by a walloping hug, hair-rumpling kisses, and a ready finger to wipe away the tear that rolled down a chubby cheek.
“No Little Friend. I won’t give you a special treat. But I will use every ounce of my wisdom, experience, insight, and instinct to protect, cherish, and nurture the you you are today and the you you are going to become tomorrow. Guess why? ‘Cause I love you.”
This post is shared with Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop.