A few days ago in the late afternoon I was in our bedroom folding clothes and putting away loose papers as I eavesdropped on little Gabriela and Josue’s conversation through our open windows. Immediately outside of two of our windows lies our front porch, from which typically come shouts of joy and squeals and too-loud play on the five hammocks we’ve strung up.
On this occasion, rather than swinging somewhat mindlessly on the hammocks and shouting greetings to me through the window, roughly 7-year-old Gabriela was carefully instructing Josue (who is her age but suffers several developmental disabilities most likely due to abuse in his infancy) that they were to play ‘Ma and Pa.’
Thrilled to hear that she was using her imagination and likewise intrigued at how ‘Ma and Pa’ would play out, I kept folding and putting away clothes with one ear very intentionally tuned in to the little drama that was unfolding just yards away.
As their voices faded in and out, I could hear her coaching Josue on how they would prepare dinner for the kids, and then she told him that it was time to put the kids to sleep. I focused hard through other distracting noises – dogs outside, other kids moving about, etc – to hear how her view of bedtime would play out in her make-believe (yet very real) world, especially when she thought no one else was listening.
‘Ma’ Gabriela said to ‘daughter’ Gabriela: “Ok, Gabriela, time to go to sleep. We will pray with you and sing for you.”
My heart smiled because that is, in fact, what we do with her nearly every night.
Then: “We love you.”
In Spanish (which is the language my husband, kids and I communicate in) there are two different forms of “I love you.” There is a much more commonly used form that can be used in friendships and not-so-intimate relationships (Te quiero), and then there is the much more personal form that is very rarely used because (in my opinion) it is so powerful (Te amo). Darwin and I use the more powerful version with one another and with our kids to communicate God’s intensely personal love for them, but even our kids do not typically respond with the stronger version but rather the more ‘tame’ love. For example, I’ll say: “Good night, Dayana. I (strong, deep) love you,” and she’ll respond joyfully: “I (less intense, more common) love you, too, Ma.” I think only two or three times in these two years of parenting one of our kids has said that they love anyone (among siblings, other family members, to Darwin and I, etc) using the stronger version, and even then it was written in a card rather than spoken because (I imagine) it just seems too risky.
So that afternoon as I eavesdropped on Gabriela’s ‘theater’ of her own reality, the power of her statement to ‘herself’ almost took my breath away, because she used the almost-forbidden-because-it’s-so-strong version of “I love you,” which is the version we use with her but that I have never heard leave her lips before. On a normal day she’ll follow me around the house proclaiming, “I love you, Ma!” with the less-intense version, and I’ll stop and give her hugs or kisses or pick her up and then she’ll keep on professing her ‘love’ for me, but always with the friendly, less-personal version of love.
So when I heard her innocent play-time “I love you,” my heart sunk into a deep pool of gratitude, my thoughts immediately swept up in: She knows. She really knows – understands – that we love her. Thank you, Lord. Amidst all of our trials with her, the times when she wants to sit in my lap but it’s already occupied by someone else, the times when my attitude screams impatience or when I feel inadequate to meet her many, many needs – even amidst all the discipline and correction, she really, really knows. Thank you, Lord. Please keep showing her Your love for her through us, however imperfect we are. We love her because You do. Thank you.