I love you too.

When a child is first learning to speak, conversations are not all that unlike speaking to your pet or yourself like you’ve gone mad. In fact, I’ve been on the receiving end of “bitch has gone crazy” looks from many a stranger over these past six years. (But in truth they started back longer than that.)

Yet when your child has language delays, that awkward period of narrating your actions and speaking to yourself can last to a noticeable point where you’re keeping up a monologue for someone walking beside you wearing a backpack. Then the delightfully insensitive obtuse questions start increasing.

What’s a big boy like you doing in a stroller?
Why won’t you say “hi”?
Are you shy?
Giving your mom the silent treatment?
Are you teasing your mom?
What grade are you in?

Then, suddenly, he began speaking. It could have been our introduction of CBD oil into his therapy, mimicry of his sister, or just simply time; but suddenly he was speaking. Then it was sentences, then onomatopoeias, expressions, and now singing. We know he has echolalia now as well. Without any speech it wasn’t apparent.

I hear Owen singing to himself in the other room, humming really. It’s 4 a.m. He’ll be up looking for me next. It’s my turn with him. As much as my health and sanity need regular sleep again, I love hearing him shout as he crashes into me, “Mama!”

Those moments where he’s not echoing back the last word in your sentence, a passing conversation, or a name of a show he wants. Those little moments where you get a glimpse through the toddler racket into who he might become. When his sticky hands grab my face a little too roughly as his forehead rests against mine, “I love you too, mom.”

That’s how he says “I love you” unsolicited to me because that’s how he heard it expressed for three and a half years, 43 months. He didn’t say it to me until this month.

For some, it’s even longer or never at all, but we know they love us, our children. He said it when he sighed and squeezed his cheek against mine and broke my heart when he hit me if I tried to hug him. He said it when he sought me out for comfort. When he held my hand as we walked, if even for an instant. When he waited to see if I was watching while he went down the slide. Even if he promptly ran away from me out of the park.

He’s maddening, challenging, heartbreaking, swoon worthy, endearing, comedic, and happy. Even his most harrowing days have smiles and I’m thankful for that.

Our beloved state has multiple forest fires burning. His first day back at preschool lasted only two hours. The smoke and the ash in the air were too much for his asthma. He came home with a bloody nose and wheezing. He cried when I took off his cool outfit.

We watched “Bob’s Burgers” and cuddled as his sister melted down, again, because her first day of school was cancelled and her brother’s early return meant her friends had to go home so I could tend to him. She’s had such a rough year and a huge build up to the point of returning to conventional school that having the first day cancelled was like sugar in her gas tank.

I still find myself saying to myself “I love you too” to my children, sarcastically or otherwise, but now he answers back, “Aww, I love you too, ma.” The Long Island accent is a perk. Thank you, “Bob’s Burgers”.

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