Then he said "Love you."

Stevie has been traveling a good bit for work lately. It's caused me to be in full-on mom mode all the time, which is kind of exhausting. I'll be honest, I've had to work on my heart about it. I have to remind myself that he's not off having a good time without me - he's working. And obviously, I hope he's having a good time while he's gone. But it's hard to not feel like, oh great, he's off in London pal-ing around with, you know, probably the Queen, and I'm stuck here reading Paddington Bear for the drillionth time. You get my vibe? I'm not saying I've had a good attitude. I've been working on it.

But with all his travel, it's caused Everett and myself to bond more than ever. We have been doing literally everything together, all day everyday. And that little kiddo is learning at such a lightning speed - he's got a great ear and is able to mimic my words and sounds remarkably well. I mean, at least I think it's impressive. I'm sure every kid can do exactly what he's doing, but I get to experience his learning curve quite literally, word for word, and it's simply amazing. This is the part about parenthood that is shocking and fascinating and so so fun. His favorite words? "Show" (means Sesame Street), "Elmo" (his favorite character), "Beep beep" (trucks and cars), "Chair Waffle Sausage!" (he's hungry and wants breakfast like right now), and "My Daddy" which is the one that kills me the most, because that's the first phrase he's said where he puts two words together. My daddy. Isn't that just the sweetest, most precious, most unbelievable thing? Sorry for all of you who aren't parents and think I'm being all goony - but I swear, one day you will understand. This little fella absolutely melts my already mushy heart.

The one thing that Everett has not repeated is the most important phrase of all - I love you. I say it to him a million times a day, and so does everyone else in his extended family. He has all his aunties and uncles and his Nana and Didi and Mimi and Papa and even his babysitters who tell him all the time, "I lovvvvveeee you, Everett!" and he just stares and then says, "Bye bye", mostly because I think he associates that phrase with leaving. But for all our coaxing, he won't say it.

I guess I should say that he wouldn't say it. Past tense. Because you guys. It finally happened.

I was putting him to bed the other night, and Stevie was still out of town. We had already done bath time, read a bunch of books, turned his little lamps off and tucked him into bed with his favorite "babies" (stuff animals). I was closing the door as usual, waving night-night and saying my usual, "I love you, sleep well" And as the door clicked shut, I heard the faintest sound.

His miniature little voice.

"luh ooh."

My heart jumped. Literally out of my chest.

Did I just hear that right? It couldn't have been...

And then again!

"Luh ooh."

Oh my word. My baby.

I quickly opened the door and let the hallway light flood into the room. He looked right at me. And then again!

"Luh ooh! Luh ooh!"

My voice almost cracked as I smiled through my cresting tears, "I love you, too! I love you too, Everett boy!"

He kept saying it and so I kept saying it and we both let the light and dark paint our vision while we whispered our love words all around.

My little boy loves me.

And he said it all by himself. Not prompted, not forced, not bribed with a cookie (not that I've tried that or anything). He decided to say something that he had heard so many times, spoken so tenderly to him, by all his adoring family.

Those words. They really are powerful.

After a long time of repeating the phrase, punctuated by a lot of "night-night" and "sleep tight", I finally closed the door. But I stood in the hallway a while and let the feelings feel me. This is what people are talking about when they say that having children is the most rewarding thing in the world. I've connected so very often to the feeling that having a child is the hardest thing I've ever done. Because it's seriously the hardest thing. But feeling that reward, that sense of pride in parenthood - I don't think I've felt it's effect quite like this. Until now. The love - it's just so strong it's almost hard to swallow.

I know that everyone has a different frame of reference for what love looks like in their own life. I know that love means different things to different people, and that the phrase "I love you" can bring up feelings of hurt as well as feelings of beauty. But I just want to say, especially to those of you who don't feel a sense of hope in your current state of love - this love thing gets better. Love is probably the one thing in life that really gets better with age. It gets sweeter, it gets stronger, it becomes more trustworthy and more surprising, all in the kindest way. I could have never imagined that the love I felt on my wedding day could be trumped, because up to that point it was my favorite day of my life. But already in my short tenure of marriage, I have felt even more love - even more comfort and challenge and triumph in that love that I get to share with my husband. And now, living smack dab in the middle of parenthood - truly, the hardest thing I've ever done - I am confronted with an even more confounding sense of love, presented to me by my innocent, astounding masterpiece baby boy. This love, well, you could try to break me of it. But there's no way you would have any success. I would gladly lay down my life for this love. This tender, tiny, and yet somehow simultaneously mountainous love.

It gets better, friends. It's getting better and better and better all the time. So take heart, brave ones - love is for us all.

P.S. - I didn't mean for this to happen during Valentine week. It's just the uncanny wonder of it all.

*Photo: Rachel Koontz, Eyesong Photography