[Spoiler alert: if you haven’t read the children’s book “Guess How Much I Love You” by Sam McBratney, I’m about to give away the ending. In fact, I already have.]
When my boys were young, every time I read this sweet book to them I felt a bit of an excited thrill as I read the last line; how could the papa possibly top his bunny’s proclamation “I love you up to the moon!”?
Throughout the book, papa rabbit and his bunny each declare greater and greater love for the other, escalating to a height that out-measures the world. The final page holds quite possibly my favorite moment in all of literature:
I love you right up to the moon –
I particularly enjoy that the papa says this to his son after he’s asleep, letting him have the last word, knowing (as parents do) that he can never truly understand the full extent of his papa’s love.
This book was a favorite of my younger son when he was little. We went through a time of reading it nightly and developed a regular routine of mimicking the papa and bunny in the book.
I’m sure we’re not the only family to make this routine a part of our nighttime ritual. Eventually, it morphed into our own unique language of declaring greater and greater love for each other, which left our hearts full to bursting just in time for bed.
As a parent, I recognize the unconditional love expressed matter-of-factly by the papa in the story. Parental love will always meet and encompass that of a child; not greater or bigger, but holding and embracing the child’s love within it. I may have been my children’s world when they were younger but, as has been said many times before, my boys are my very heart.
It’s been a long while since we’ve read that book together. But a couple of years ago, I found the words “Love You to the Moon and Back” printed and framed. That line has been such a part of our family culture that I had to bring it home. I put it up in the hallway without much ado, and the sentiment slipped quietly back into our daily life.
Then, something interesting happened.
Periodically, when my kids were especially angry with me, the framed words would vanish. After a time, once emotions had calmed, it would simply reappear.
And that was just fine with me.
I had inadvertently provided a barometer for their anger, a way for them to send me a clear message: “Right now, I don’t like you very much at all.” This small act gave them the power to communicate by action what they couldn’t communicate with words.
Brilliant. Wish it had been a conscious plan, but it was really just an accident.
I’ll admit that I have always tended toward over-processing with my kids. Too much talking can be as ineffective as not communicating at all… (cut to the clip of a “Peanuts” cartoon, with an adult talking off-screen: “wa-wah-waa-wah-waah”.)
Since I became aware of the disappearing and reappearing sign, I’ve sought to surreptitiously provide other ways for my kids to communicate with me without talking. I have yet to find one as effective.
Recently, however, my elder son received his first phone and I’ve noticed how it has changed the quality of our communication. Surprisingly, for the better.
In navigating this new technology, he and I have discussed how inflection is difficult to read in text messages, which can create communication challenges. However, it seems that in the case of a mother communicating with her son, reducing the emotional inflection of a message isn’t a bad thing.
I can deliver a message clearly via text, and he can receive it clearly. It’s kind of revolutionary.
This is not to say that I believe in parenting through text message. (Tempting though it may be at times…) But his having a phone has had some unexpected side-effects.
I’ve begun to shift my perspective of my place in my son’s life.
In a way, his having a phone has amplified my awareness that he does have a life apart from me; that even though he still (appropriately) relies on me for basics like food and transportation, he’s (also appropriately) becoming more independent. And I’m ready for this next stage.
Through all of this change, I feel lucky because my younger son is much more of a cuddly kid. So, I still get hugs at bedtime as his brother begins to separate. But even so…
Do I miss the sweetness of snuggling for bedtime stories? Yes, I do.
Do I miss the relative simplicity of their needs as younger kids? Perhaps.
Do I miss being the center of their world? Nope. I benefit from their increased independence, too.
I haven’t seen those framed words disappear in quite some time… we may be past that stage at this point. But every time I walk into the hallway, it’s there as a reminder of bedtime stories and the impact of actions over words.