I stand in the cul-de-sac. Lily is on the bus. I tell her I love her as she climbs on, but she is observing something else, scripting to some other thought process and she doesn't reply. Her 'chaperone' lets her seat herself and he fastens her seat belt before waving to me; the all clear sign. I intone, "Have a nice day!" to him and he recites, "You too." And then the door is closing and I'm backing away, waving and smiling until the bus slowly pulls away and makes the slow wide turn to leave the cul-de-sac behind. I continue to wave and say softly, "I love you, Lily", but she isn't looking at me. I smile to myself and walk back into the house to get ready for work. That is our morning ritual, every school day, mostly the same It's night and her room is dark. Quiet music is playing. A fan sighs gentle white noise behind us. A lamp on her dresser casts a soft yellow light over her bed. I can just see her dark eyes looking up at me from her pillow through long lashes. "I'm proud of you Lily. I believe in you. I will love you always, no matter what," I say. It is a recitation of sorts, but not by rote. I say it to her as I look into her eyes and each word carries with it the full weight of the feeling it is its purpose to describe. She does not respond. I comb my fingers through her hair as I look at her. As we lie there quietly, her lids flutter slowly closed and she falls asleep, and I smile to myself, continuing to stroke her hair, closing my eyes for a few minutes and enjoying this quiet time. That is our bedtime ritual, every night, mostly the same. After prayers I stroke her hair and she quiets her perpetual motion, stills her ceaseless script, and allows herself to relax. And every night I tell her the same thing. I need her to hear it whether she understands the message or not; whether she replies or not. "This place is always safe. You are always loved. You are always a source of pride." When morning comes we'll start over again...getting ready, eating breakfast, watching TV, doing homework, and then the bus will come and it will take her away to school again. And every morning that I put her on the bus I will be standing in the cul-de-sac waving to her, smiling, and saying "I love you, Lily." Because although it isn't important whether or not she sees me do this, it is imperative to me that if she turns around that is what she sees. We teach Lily to respond to social etiquette appropriately. When we say goodbye to her we prompt her response. When we greet her we prompt her to say, "hello". These sorts of social interactions are rote responses for almost everyone. "Howyadoin'?" has almost completely lost the meaning or intention of the words...it just means "Hi" now for the most part. That's fine, it's accepted almost universally. So I'll prompt her to say hello, or hi, or howyadoin', and I'll prompt her to say goodbye. But I do not want to teach her a rote response to "I love you." It's just confusing. What if the bus driver says it? What if strangers say it? When should she say it back? When she understands it. When she means it. When she feels it. I know Lily loves me; loves us. I don't need or really want to hear her recite the words by rote, not if they're just a recitation, not if they're just a script. They don't change our feelings of unconditional love. Unconditional love does not require a response. It is not withdrawn sheepishly in the potential lengthening measured metaphorical cricket chirp of the silence that follows its declaration. If she turns around as the bus pulls away, if the colors flashing by the window aren't too captivating, if the noisy chatter of her fellow riders isn't too distracting, If she wonders if I'm still looking...I always want her to know that she will see me standing there, smiling and saying the words, "I love you, Lily." Always. Unconditionally. No response required. [caption id="attachment_2542" align="alignnone" width="772"] she turns to see me smiling and waving...[/caption]
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