Every morning when I get him up to eat and every night before I put him to bed, I tell my 11-week-old that I love him.
I say it over and over and over, knowing that one day he will say those magical, heart-effectively-exploded words back to me.
It's one of the best parts of being a mother -- hearing that baby voice coo in a way that is surely "I love you," listening to the toddler echo, treasuring the spontaneous words from big-kid lips.
My boys rarely go a day without saying they love me, mostly because I can't go more than a few hours without telling them, and they can't just ignore me every time.
But even if they didn't tell me in words, I would know in a million other ways.
Sometimes, when we are wading through a week and there's really just not enough time to get everything done and we've barely had a chance to sit down and talk about anything important, those days we start feeling more like a maid and a shoe-finder and a diaper-changer and a laundry-doer and a cook and a story-reader and a do-your-homework nagger and a get-back-in-bed-dang-it-yeller and an invisible piece in the world of husband and children, it can feel difficult to remember that we are loved and appreciated.
Our children, every moment, are loving us in a thousand different ways. Just like we show love in the little things -- sorting socks and applying dish soap to that stubborn stain on his favorite shirt and keeping those art treasures in a closet box -- they are showing love in the little things, too.
Love doesn't always need words. It just needs eyes.
There is love in those shorts left on the floor -- but not underwear, because he knows you hate it when he comes to dinner with a naked lower half.
There is love in those crayons spread all over the floor, because he was coloring a picture for you.
There is love in the "I hate you" he throws out so recklessly when you say it's no longer time to play with LEGOs, because he trusts you enough to share how he feels instead of locking those emotions tight.
There is love in his picking that first bloom on the peace lily that hasn't flowered since kids came along, because he wanted to give it to you.
There is love in that twelfth knock on your bedroom door after lights are out and they should be sleeping, because he spent all day at school and just can't get enough of his time with you.
There is love in the hug he gives you in the middle of the second and third grade hallway, because he didn't have to do it in front of all his friends.
There is love in pulling the dishwasher open and accidentally dumping out all the silverware, even though you've told him a billion times not to touch the dishes. He just wanted to help you.
There is love in the stuffing all his clean clothes into his underwear drawer, because he knows you like them to keep a tidy room.
There is love in the way they get up at 6 a.m. on the weekend and you have to drag them out of bed at 6:30 on the weekdays -- because they know one means they have all day with you and the other means all day apart.
There is love in the note slid under the door, the one that says you're the meanest mama ever, because he feels safe enough in this home to express himself.
There is love in those 40 cups lined up on the counter, waiting for washing, because they knew you wouldn't want them to drink from an already-dirty cup.
There is love in the egg smashed all over the floor, because he was just trying to bring you breakfast.
There is love in that unexpected mural on the wall, because he wanted to make you something beautiful, and this bare white wall looked like exactly the right place to do it.
There is love in the stuffed animal left in your room after 15 reminders to get it, because he just doesn't want you to be lonely.
There is love in his asking you to carry him downstairs, even though he has perfectly capable legs, because, deep down, he misses those mornings when you would do this all the time.
There is love in the running away, because he knows you care enough to come after him.
There is love in the toddler attachment weighing down your leg while you're trying to take laundry out of the dryer, because he really just wants a two-arm hug. PUT THAT LAUNDRY DOWN, MAMA.
There is love in the interruptions that somehow find their way past a locked door, because you're just his favorite person in the world (even though he's not really yours right this minute).
There is love in all the carpet stains and all the broken dishes and all the scratches on the walls--because they mean children felt comfortable enough in your home to really live.