At least five times a day my three-year-old tells me she loves me. She’ll say it genuinely and out of nowhere, and it warms my heart each and every time. But it only took her telling me she DIDN’T love me once, to break my heart into a million pieces.
It was a normal workday. My kids went to the sitter’s house, and I went to my station to film some stories. We’ve been through a few different babysitters lately. Luckily, all of them are close friends of ours, so it hasn’t been dramatic going from one place to another. In fact, Ms. Brittani, their current sitter has been a friend since Lil’ J was a baby. My daughter is best friends with her oldest son, and my son has loved her since birth.
Ms. Brittani is fun, she has the gentlest voice, fun activities planned, pretty straight blond hair (that my daughter loves to point out) and the patience of a saint. We all love her. But I started to wonder if some of us love her a little too much when my daughter said she didn’t want to come home when I picked her up.
Oh, but she was only getting started.
“I have to tell you something,” Lil’ J whispered to me.
“What?” I bent down, excited to hear what her sweet little voice had in store.
“I don’t love you mommy, I love Ms. Burtney.”
I don’t remember exactly what I said to her as I tried to gain composure and gather our things to leave.
She’s only three.
She doesn’t mean it. I told myself.
But it didn’t sting any less.
It’s not like my kids are there 50 hours a week. It’s just a day or two a week, tops. What next, my son starts to call her “Mama?”
“Oh, guess what? [Big T] said Mama today!” Brittani told me.
On the way home I asked my daughter why she would say that she didn’t love me.
“That really hurts my feelings,” I told her.
“Well, you locked me out of the bathroom and Ms. Burtney doesn’t lock me out,” she professed.
Yea, well she probably doesn’t let you sit and watch her pee either, I thought. Really? That was like one time, is she going to hold this over my head forever?
“Can I watch your phone?” She asked me.
HA! Not after you’ve just written me off.
“No, why would you want to borrow the phone from someone you don’t love?” I know my sense of logic and reasoning was far off base but I was angry.
“I was just kidding, I do love you,” she told me.
“No you don’t, you’re just saying that because you want to borrow my phone,” I said.
“No, I really DO love you!” She said. “I’m not just saying that.”
“But you said you didn’t,” I pushed.
“I’m sorry mommy, I do love you, I really really do,” she said.
“Ok?” she asked as if she were saying: “Are we good now?”
“Ok,” I agreed. We were good.
“So can I borrow your phone now?”
Then my husband called and said Snoop got out because I left the garage door open and hopefully we’d find him, yadda yadda yadda. I was not in the mood to hear this. By then I was pulling into the neighborhood and the anger was boiling over and cooling into misery.
“What’s wrong with you?” He asked as he saw the look on my face when I got out of the car. I saw Snoop behind him so either he had found him or he was exaggerating the whole “lost dog” scenario to teach me a lesson.
“NOTHING!” I shouted.
“Just tell me,” he said.
I tried to unbuckle Lil’ J out of her car seat, but I missed a latch and somehow pinched her in the process, sending her into full-on meltdown mode.
“[Little J!]” I shouted again.
“I’ll get her,” my husband told me, sensing I needed a break. “Did everything go ok picking them up?” He asked, probably worried something very serious had happened and my vagueness was not helping.
“Yes, it was fine.” I told him blankly. Then I grabbed our happy son out of his car seat and stormed into my room, accidently bumping his head into the wall as I turned which also sent him into a screaming fit.
Yesterday morning, if you had asked me the last time I’d cried, I wouldn’t have had a clue. I am a big crybaby, but something about having kids has made my emotions rock solid.
So I was a little taken aback by the waterworks that came after this conversation with my daughter. But what else would you expect when you’ve been stabbed in the heart?
Was this the beginning of the mother-daughter friction I’ve read about, which would always push her closer to her daddy, and leave her wanting nothing to do with me? How could she ever say anything like that to me when I’ve done nothing but love her?
I nursed Big T, stroked his curls, and thanked God for sending me a boy as well so if all Hell breaks loose with my mother-daughter relationship, at least I have a son.
My husband came in our room to check in and try to get more information out of me.
“It’s dumb,” I told him, not wanting to say the words out loud.
“Just tell me!” He pleaded.
“[Lil’ J] said she didn’t love me and that she loves Brittani more than me.”
I tried not to look at his reaction, which was probably a suppressed laugh.
“She didn’t mean it,” he told me after a moment. “She’s just a punk kid. Besides, she can’t even say her name right, she can’t love her that much.”
Somehow, he always knows what to say to make me laugh, especially when I’m in tears.
“It’s just cause we’re always playing those games asking her who she loves more,” he added, trying to console me. “She doesn’t even know what she’s talking about.”
He walked away and let me be, then a little while later Lil’ J came in (obviously coached) to apologize and tell me she loves me more than everyone except daddy.
My husband took us out for dinner and dessert outdoors, and my mood quickly lifted.
I still am wondering if it’s true about girls clinging to their daddies more, and boys preferring their mothers. Is this the start of some tragic law of nature? Can I fix it? Am I just overreacting?
Now every time my daughter tells me she loves me—which is still several times a day—My heart doesn’t get the same warm fuzzy melting feeling it did before. Now it aches a little, still sore from the wounds she gave me yesterday. I’m hopeful it’ll heal completely soon, and toughen up a lot because I’ll need some thicker skin before she turns 13.