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no, i love you

November 17, 2011

“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.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. November 17, 2011 4:21 pm

    Your 3-year-old will read this one day and love you all the more…

  2. November 17, 2011 4:31 pm

    Teardrop. Sob. Beautiful.

  3. November 17, 2011 4:42 pm

    This is so sweet. Your saying no will definitely go a long way in teaching her that saying yes doesn’t always equal love. (I shall now print and post this on my fridge so that I can remind myself of the same when the 2 yr old yells “Elmo TV!”. Repeatedly.

  4. Nancy permalink
    November 17, 2011 7:46 pm

    Sometime no means I can keep you safe which is a very important message. It is great that you put thought into your yeses and nos and don’t just opt for the easy answer. You continue to amaze me. I like the parallels to Gods nos and our wants. So true. Love you.

  5. November 18, 2011 2:23 pm

    This is a wonderful post. Sometimes it’s so hard to say no when all we want to see is a smile on their face and for them to feel the love we have for them.

  6. November 18, 2011 3:15 pm

    Sometimes I think the “no”s carry so much more love because they’re harder to say. Beautiful post.

    Found you thru Mama Kat’s

  7. November 22, 2011 2:49 pm

    Wow. Again, totally mesmerized by your writing AND your wisdom. Thanks for sharing, friend!!

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