We are a say I love you family, we say it all the time, and mean it. We say it when we leave the house, on the phone, at dinner, at bed time, at random moments, really all the time. I'm sure that we make other people uncomfortable sometimes with all the "I love yous", The first time I told the parents of our first foster kids "I love you, your doing a good job", I could tell they believed me but wanted a way to escape from the moment. That was a couple years ago and when I tell them that now it feels natural to all of us, like "of course you love me!"
With all the love going around I noticed that Gelly has a bit of a crisis when it comes to these moments. I know that he loves us, and will tell us he loves us on his own terms when he is feeling close or particularly happy, but tell him you love him and he's not sure what to do. For him its a loaded statement with an element of risk. He has had difficult experiences with love, loss and people who should have loved him hurting him, he has suffered.
A couple of days ago we were getting ready to drive to school and Hot Mama told him, "love you Gelly have a good day at school". He responded like he usually does when this is uncomfortable for him, he pretends that he didn't hear it. I guess this was not a real surprise because he had just talked to Mama S a day or so before when she called for Cardo Man's birthday. He had a lot of anxiety approaching the birthday wondering if she would call and then deciding if he would talk to her when she did call. He actually hid in his room for a while when I was talking to her while he decided what to do. My sense has always been that there is some feeling of loyalty that if he loves us he can't love her anymore.
We got in the car and were the only ones driving to school that day, a really rare thing to be just the two of us in the van. So I asked him.
"Gelly, why when we tell you that we love you do you some times pretend that you don't hear us?"
"I not know what you talkin about."
Keep in mind that Gelly has a pretty serious verbal delay that makes some of these conversations difficult, He is 6 but communicates at a much lower level. I know that he is thinking beyond the level of a 6 year old, sometimes the vocabulary to express really serious things just isn't there yet.
I said, "I know that you know what I am talking about and I just want to understand how it makes you feel. "
I explained that when I love someone it makes me feel happy to tell them I love them, and when someone loves me it make me happy that they tell me. "Have you ever thought about how it makes you feel?"
Silence from the back seat for about two minutes.
"It makes me feel like I don't know who I am."
I looked in the rear view mirror into the biggest brownest eyes and could see all the questions that bubble under the surface about who he is, why bad things happened to him, how he ended up with me with no say so in the matter after bouncing through 3 foster homes, his struggle to make sense of his own story. How do you love me when I feel like so many other people didn't, If I love you back does that mean that I can't love Mama S.....How do I find my place?
My heart broke for him.
We stopped in the school parking lot and talked about who he was; from his birth to the struggles that Mama S had and the danger that put him in, going into foster care, coming to us, adoption and our life now. We talked about the boy I see him as, kind, strong, a good brother, determined, and smart. A person who deserves to be loved and a person who has one life that can have lots of different people in it, family by birth and family by adoption. Not a person with lots of different parts of their life that must be kept separate.
A boy who deserves to be loved in a way that he can know who he is.
I was hard to let him go that day, I just wanted to take him back home and protect him from all of the reality of what has been his life. I know he thinks deeply about his own origins but I may have underestimated how deeply.
The conversation ended with me telling him I was really proud of him for talking about big feelings like that and that he should only tell people that he loves them if he really feels like he should. I told him I really love him and will keep telling him I do, but that doesn't mean he needs to do anything other than know that I really, really mean it, forever.
I drove home repeating my plea to the lord to get this right for him, to be the dad that he needs and that he will know we all love him so much.
That night at dinner the family was particularly noisy and in an attempt to just get the volume down a couple of notches I announced to the family, "do you know what would make me a really happy daddy?" I was just going to suggest that we all be a little more quiet, but Gelly raised his hand lightning fast and said "I know!" "I love you dad!"
I love you to Gelly.