She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not

December 16, 2008
I hated my hand-me-down crayons that earned me check minuses because they were too blunt to possibly color in the lines. I hated when my older sister used words too big for me to understand and told me I must have the IQ of a doorknob (which never really made sense to me anyway considering doors don’t have IQ’s and especially not doorknobs). But I especially hated Barney, because even that big stupid dinosaur could say “I love you.” Everywhere, anywhere I went, people told their spouses and children they loved them, but in my house, no matter how hard I searched, the phrase eluded me.
According to my kindergarten knowledge, a mother’s main jobs include feeding her children, buying them the best toys of course, and reminding them constantly of their “special-ness” and how much they were loved. Always a bit rebellious in her own way, my mom adhered to the first two rules but avoided the final one, instead providing me and my siblings with a constant supply of hugs and kisses but never what I wanted to hear the most. I guess I always assumed my mom loved me, but the need to hear it from her lips mounted as I grew older. By first grade, I vowed to make it happen.
Fussily, I grasped the green and pink scissors with chubby fingers and cut smooth, even lines across the page of birthday wrapping paper. With each row of perfect paper my anticipation vegetated—finally I discovered a solution to my “I love you” situation, and as a side bonus, a wonderful birthday present for Mom. Enveloping my small body with folds of shiny paper and staples that often painfully found their way into my fingertips, I wrapped myself from head to toe until one could only spot a gleaming little mess standing in the corner. At the end of the school day, Mom pulled up in our black suburban and I could hardly contain my excitement to present myself. But she just paused her phone conversation long enough to whisper, “Oh, Keegan, what a mess! Clean yourself up!” And so my mother, my idol, my angel on a pedestal, unknowingly tore my little heart into billions of completely confused, completely broken pieces.
Not until later, when Mom engulfed me in an apologetic hug after I howled into my pillow for hours and filled up three trash bags with paper did it strike me—she didn’t need to tell me in words that she loved me, because she expressed it through every action; every time she sat through eight hour swim meets; every minute she spent listening to me ramble on about nothing at all. Mom loved me just as much as any of my classmates’ mothers, but she showed it through big hugs and little things she did, instead of I-love-you…which, as I wrapped my arms around her waist, just didn’t seem so important anymore.

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