I am probably not alone in the ranks of special-needs parents in wishing my children would say, "I love you." Herbie has never been one to tell anyone what he thinks about them. His emotional outbursts have more to do with how he is feeling about his surroundings and sensory inputs. I am fortunate that he is often in the mood to cuddle, and the fact that he requests my hugs and back rubs makes me feel loved. (Although if I think too much about it, I could convince myself that he is just looking for sensory input...)
The Wise Old Owl was late to talk, so initially there were no expectations of hearing, "I love you." I was pretty excited to hear him call out, "Mama!" when he wanted my attention. We did a lot of sign language and I did try to teach the sign for "I love you" to no avail. And frequently playing the particular Signing Time episode that taught that sign didn't seem to help. One of my brothers worked really hard at trying to teach him to say the words, hoping it could be a birthday present for me. I appreciated the heartfelt effort, having someone try to give me something I really wanted for my birthday. One day last spring, I was tucking the kids in bed and said the usual, "I love you," and Owl responded. I thought for sure it was the moment I had been waiting for. But he ended up saying, "I love Signing Time." He's heard Rachel say, "We love signing with you" so many times, apparently "love" and "signing" go together. Oh well, I do love Signing Time, too. Several weeks later, we were at our local co-op, and he picked up a bag of chocolate chips which he had recently discovered that he liked to eat. He knew which brand was safe for him, and grinning as he put it into the cart he said, "I love chocolate!" Well, I couldn't disagree with that one either! Over the summer, he was doing a lot more mimicking and I finally heard the words, "I love you." I never knew if it was echolalia or if he meant it.
A few days ago, after picking him up from preschool, he was doing his usual routine of resisting being buckled into the car. He arched his back, he squirmed around. Then he wrapped his arms around my head and wouldn't let go. I finally got him in his seat and off we went, as he protested loudly. I was having one of those days where I felt like I was taking care of everybody and nobody was taking care of me. We had only gone a block when his little voice came from the back, even more halting and broken than usual because he was on the verge of tears. "Stop, mama, I want to love you!"
So I stopped. And opened his door and let him wrap his arms around my head as he said, "I love you, mama."

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