We heard these eagerly whispered words this morning at 615 when it was still dark outside, under our warm comforter, our long-legged 12 year-old between us. Per his morning ritual, he snuck into our room in the early hours and found his spot between us. One leg over mine, arm around my neck. Then he switches, with a "I need to cuddle dad," and turns to Brendan.
"Thanks for cuddling me," he usually whispers when he’s ready to leave the room, asking "can I go now?" about a half hour later.
This morning, though, he lingered after he told us he loved us every day. Both of engulfed him in an embrace. I could literally feel Brendan's heart swell up along mine.
I love all of my kids equally - there is no greater , more complicated, more intense love than one you have for children you and your partner created through love. Each time I became pregnant, I worried, like most soon-to-be-moms, if I would have enough love to spread out. You just can't imagine loving any other being as much as you do the toddler/s running around and falling over every dip in the sidewalk.
But, the new baby comes and your heart grows. Instantly. Room, and then some, to fuel you through the wonder of raising a baby again. I love feisty Audrey differently and uniquely because she is our only girl; Aedan because he will always be the baby, rapscallion and all.
I will say though that because of what we went through with Liam, the love for him feels different. Unique. Love through trauma transcends the normal, day-to-day ups and downs of child-rearing. It changed both me and Brendan on every level possible. I believe it changed Liam too, even as a baby.
Babies, close to God, come with wisdom, compassion and a knowing that I believe imprints on who they become as adults. Because Liam's first year was fraught with worry, uncertainty, illness, grief, resilience and, ultimately, triumph, he turned into the amazingly loving boy he is today.
There's something about taking your baby to the hospital every week for a blood draw that changes the trajectory of your love. Inserting a feeding tube every night for four months while his GI heals from inflammation; this affects your psyche and cements your love. Fiercely protective of your little baby when you take him out to the public, recording every ounce of food he eats in a journal, holding your breath while the doctor puts him on a scale every week, watching him be wheeled away into an operating room for his endoscopy at 7 months, crying silent tears into his dark hair in the middle of the night when you finally let your guard down : all this and more changes the dimensions of love.
When , at age 3 1/2, the doctor diagnoses him with autism and you cry again the whole way home, with relief for an answer as well as sorrow for the loss. When finally, finally, you high-five his nephrologist when he inches his way onto the growth chart after being under it for five years: victory no parent of a typically growing child can understand. The smile on our faces when we left that appointment sent our love soaring up to the clouds and beyond.
I believe Liam lived a previous life as a wise sage infusing the world around him with a deep, non-judgmental, true kind of love. The love born from watching your parents' confusion and grief, in celebrating both minor and major victories with them as you heal. He has grown into the happiest, sweetest kid who finds joy in simple, enduring joys. Cheeseburgers (with extra pickles), watching movies with his baby sitters, grocery shopping for his favorite items, reading the same story every night with you in his top bunk, as if every time is the first. Things a lot of sixth graders take for granted, don't see, or get washed away in the drama of pre-teen emotions and angst.
"I love you every day."
"Son, we love you every minute of every day."
"Every second of every minute of every day," I whispered, my hand on his full, gentle heart, beating in alignment with mine.