Saturday, April 28, 2007

"I Love You Anyway"

Originally posted Saturday, April 28, 2007 (and he still does this as of 2010!! Just not as violently.)

I've got this kid... let's call him "Thor", because he often uses his head as a hammer... who seems determined to put up a fight, no matter what. He's getting better, now that he has passed out of that 3-to-5-year-old phase that all boys seem to go through -- you know, the one where God sends Gabriel to ask you to keep it down -- but he still likes to show his gums every now and then, and really resist something. He used to do it with meals, refusing to eat for hours, and howling about how hungry he was at bedtime. Until recently, he was very consistent about revolting at cleaning-up time, to the point that we took away ALL of the toys for a week.

But through it all, we gritted our teeth, and did our duty as parents. We argued, fought, and regretfully followed through on even the most dire of threats (such as the Week Without Toys), making sure to stress the point throughout: you will do your part in this house. Heck, even I eventually learned that lesson, with Kate's patient help.

And at night, when we were all exhausted and ready to chuck each other out the windows, we would tuck him in, sweating from conflict and hoarse from shouting down toddler arguments, and tell him, "I love you."

Most people don't think about this, but "love" is one of those English words that works as more than one Part of Speech. It is a noun, of course, as in "You are my love" or "our love burns hotter than fire". It is also a verb, as in "I will love you forever", or "I don't love you any more" (two phrases that are often spoken by the same mouth to the same audience, with a noticeable lack of "forever" in between).

Loving your child is not optional, though; it's like driving without insurance. You must love the child, or there are terrible consequences in your future. But like the insurance analogy, you have to choose it. Whether you go with Gecko Love, or Good Hands, it is always a conscious decision to love, in the end.

Love, after all, is an Action Verb.

The reason so many marriages fail is because the participants tend to believe that the wedding is the prize, and that once you have it, you can put it in your living room and let it entertain you. Then, when it turns out to require effort, like most action verbs, they feel disappointed, and want to trade it in on more dating, and then... well, it's a big relationship tar-baby at that point.

But, I digress... while tucking him in, we would tell the boy, "I love you", and he would usually say, with all of the hatred a young child can muster, "Well I don't love you!!" We talked about ways to handle that, ignoring it at first, and then growing more concerned when he kept it up. We didn't want to make yet another battle out of it, and we certainly didn't want to force him to say "I love you" back to us, especially if he was angry about it. Rounds of therapy lie down THAT path, young padawan.

So we took to giving him the subject answer: "I love you, anyway."

This drove him up the wall. He hated that answer. The first few times we tried this strategy, he flew into a screaming rage, bellowing, "Well, I DON'T love YOU!!!" He was punished for yelling, and tucked back into bed, and told (as calmly as possible), "It doesn't matter if you love me or not; I love you, anyway."

Perhaps you've heard of those people who respond to angry drivers and their fingers with a cheerful "Have a nice day!" or "God Bless you, too!" Those people describe the feeling they get from that as being both rebellious and provocative (because it throws off the angry person at the other end) and very fulfilling (because you aren't the one committing an angry or hateful act). That was how it felt to us; like we were waving and smiling at a fuming jerk in a souped up Civic, speeding on his way to a date with the speed trap up the road.

But as satisfying as that is, and as right as it felt not to force the issue, there remained a sense that we weren't getting through to him. At the end of the day, he wasn't a rude stranger on the road; he was our son. And he was using our own affection against us. We decided that he knew it was a weapon, and he was simply going to keep using it on us until he got tired of it. The only reasonable way to get him to stop was to outlast him.

So, I've gotten used to the routine. We tuck them in, and give them all hugs and kisses; and when we tell them we love them, he scowls and says, "I don't love you." We give our reply, and go upstairs. Tonight, I was especially braced for it, since I had cut short whatever game they were playing and did a forced march through the house to gather all of the Legos (tm) they had strewn about. (Don't start me on the dangers of Lego-mining.) With mommy out of town, daddy is the least popular substitute sheriff ever.

I got medicine for the sick ones, and water for all; I tucked in special blankets and buddies, adjusted the bedtime electrical devices -- lights, off; fan and de-humidifier, on -- and gave the round of hugs. I got to his bed, and had to tell him to calm down, lie still. I hugged him, and told him I loved him, and he said, "I love you, too, daddy."

"Well, I love you any...way..." I looked down at him, and he was grinning at me like a loon.

"I knew you were going to say that," he said.

I left it at that.

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