Being a parent is a funny thing. When they are small you tell them, “I love you”, every day and they look up at you, snuggle into your neck and say in a voice that could melt icebergs, “I wuv you too, Mommy”. But you can’t tell them that you can’t imagine life without them; that you lie awake worrying about unseen and unspeakable dangers not just in the present, but for every day to come; that you stand by their beds just to hear them breathe. They wouldn’t understand.
When they are teens you tell them, “Love ya, kid” and, if you haven’t crushed every dream of theirs on that particular day by asking them to do something they don’t want to do, they will smile a smile that lights up your whole world and yell over their shoulder as they head for the door, “Love you too, Ma”. You can’t tell them that you can’t imagine life without them; that you lie awake waiting for the front door to punctuate their arrival home, worrying about unspeakable dangers outside that door. They wouldn’t understand – and would definitely be creeped out a little knowing that you sometimes breech that inner sanctum of adolescence, their rooms, just to hear them breathe.
As they enter adulthood, you tell them, often by phone or some other sanitized long distance version of communication, “I love you” and they know you do, and answer, “I love you too, Mom”. But you can’t tell them that the time you left homemade tuna macaroni salad in the refrigerator for them and they left you a voicemail at work thanking you, that you saved that voicemail for 3 years while they went off to college and deployment overseas. You can’t tell them that you cannot imagine life without them – ever. You try to hide the tears of parting each time you say goodbye lest they think you are dying or something. You can’t tell them that you heard them say your name in your sleep one night so clearly that you had to resist the urge to call them at 3 AM just to be sure they were ok. They wouldn’t understand.
And then they have children of their own. And they understand.