I read the New York Times Modern Love essay this morning (of course, now it's almost 10 pm, my first chance to write anything all day). My first reaction after reading the piece was to think the author has some issues. The whole piece is about the author's realizing that she never says "I love you" to her one-year-old, while all around her other mothers are saying "I love you", to her ears, at unremarkable times, such as when a mom swoops up a child after she goes down the slide. The author wonders when she should say "I love you" to her son; she doesn't want to only say it after he's done a feat, like say some letters (she subtlely shows off that her young son knows his letters already) because then he might think his mother only loves him if he does some great act.
When I was at the pool today, I caught myself saying "I love you" to my son, as I kissed him on the head, and I realized how often I say these words, without thinking about it, just as a way of expressing my love for my children; I don't think about it consciously like this author does. It just comes naturally to me. The author mentions that her parents never said "I love you" to her. She does remember saying it to her father right before he went in for heart surgery. I think how our parents raise us, how they love us, has a great effect on how we express our love for our children. (I wonder how far any of us stray from the mold our parents cast.)
Maybe it comes in part from realizing that we don't choose when to say goodbye to those we love. I didn't get to say goodbye to my father, who died suddenly two and a half years ago. But I know that he knew that I loved him, and that I got the chance to say those words to him every time we spoke.
On a more uplifting note, already my two-year-old daughter knows how to say "I love you" at the right times. She doesn't say it as often as my son does, who, at the same age, was more expressive with hugs and kisses. But she does say it to me, and it's the best feeling to hear her say it. And I hear her say it when she plays pretend with her babies and little animals. And tonight, after the grueling nightly ordeal of putting my kids to bed, specifically tonight's episode of the bedtime 'routine': after my son dumped the stuffed animals out of the Container Store soft-cubey container in my daughter's room and then tried to hide himself inside of it so that I could not retrieve him and put him to bed, and having to pull him out and down the hall and insist he must stay in his room (which included holding the door closed for a minute while he was inside, with him banging on it, to show that I meant business, then deciding he was making too much noise which might wake up his sister, so going inside, and having him do a "yoga breath" to calm down befor we read books) it was soothing for both of us to have our nightly routine of saying "I love you" to each other before kissing him goodnight. So the kid still loves me, I thought, even if all weekend he called me "stupid" when he didn't like something I did.