Within the first couple days, Zion began parroting back, “I love you” when we said it to him. Within a couple weeks, it was more than parroting. He wanted to return our affection, but he never initiated saying, “I love you.”
(Although he did regularly list off to us all the things he loved- a list usually topped by chicken, Winnie-the-Pooh, Clifford, and/or his cousin “Baby Talitha”).
About a week ago, we had a rough day. Nothing big, just a series of little things- tears over nothing, too much to-do, and one tired little boy. Late in the afternoon, I took Zion with me to pick up a hold at the library. As we were walking out, I heard a gunshot fired. I didn’t know who was firing a gun or why but I could tell it was close so I told Zion to come quickly get in the truck on my side. I wanted to get us out of there as fast as possible. He didn’t realize what was going on and picked that moment to ignore my instructions and go around to the other side to try to open the door himself. I started yelling at him, “Come here right now! Get in the truck!”
It was the first time I had ever raised my voice at him. He burst into tears. By the time I got him in the truck and drove away, he wouldn’t stop crying. I spent the next couple hours trying to finish up my errands while repeatedly pulling the truck over and explaining to him that I loved him, I was trying to protect him, and I was so sorry I had scared him.
By the time we reached our last errand, we were both a mess. I put him in the cart and pushed him into Target. I told him I was sorry that the day had been so hard. I told him that the amazing thing about being in a family was that, even on the bad days, even on the hard days, you still love each other. At the end of my little speech, I looked him in the eyes and said, “I still love you, Zion.”
He didn’t say anything back. He just looked away. I took a deep breathe and we went on shopping.
A few minutes later, he said my name.
He whispered it.
“Me still loving you.”
All the ache of the day washed away in that moment, and my heart melted with love for this boy. He is getting it. We are learning to love him. He is learning to love us back.
That night as I rocked him before bed, he asked me, “Mommy, are you still loving me on the bad days?”
Yes, Zion. Even on the bad days. Especially on the bad days.