O: That butterfly is just like me. She was brave, for a moment.
We were walking, just the two of us. It was quiet and calm. She even held my hand. Jim had run ahead with Q, strapped to his chest in a wrap, and P, riding on his hip. They were rushing off the beach to check P's sugar and get her a snack. O and I stayed behind to re-spool the kite string and gather up the sand toys. Along the path, on the way back to the beach house, I spotted a butterfly, not a monarch like we typically see, but a shiny black one with shimmering blue tear drops on it's wings. She landed on a shrub. Without thinking, I reached out slowly, placing my finger on the leaf in front of her. She didn't fly away, like I expected. Instead, she placed her front legs on my finger. I held my breath. As she moved her nonexistent weight off of the leaf and onto my finger, something in the air shifted and she fluttered away. That's when O said it. It broke my heart a little, even if at the time, I could not explain why. Brave, for a moment.
I've always wondered if O knows how much I love her, ever since she was a tiny baby. I would hold her for hours, singing and whispering and bouncing, but she would finally calm when I put her down. I would scoop her up and swing her into my arms as a toddler, and my fast movements would scare her, rather than delight her. She's always been cautious, slow to warm, risk averse. I tell her, daily, hourly, how I see her, and how what I see amazes me, but, our signals have always seemed crossed. The way I show love doesn't seem to match the way she receives love. This mismatch will be one of the great works of my life, learning to show her love in a way that she perceives as love, learning and relearning her love language. It is tough, loving someone like that, but it must be even tougher to be loved like that, never quite sure how to respond. I know she feels uncertain a lot of the time.
There are glimpses, moments when we connect, share a laugh, a look. She will, occasionally, sit so close to me that we almost touch. I can feel the warmth of her body next to me. I hold my breath. Then, like the butterfly, she's off again. Brave, for a moment, but loved, oh my sweet girl, loved for a lifetime. No matter what. I will never stop trying.
P: Momma, my legs is tired of pokes. How about my belly?
K: Where ever you want, my love. How'd you get to be so brave?
P: Because you love me. I'm brave cause you love me with your whole heart and all your blood and even your bones. Dat makes me brave.
We were in my bedroom. I had prepped the half unit of insulin in the kitchen and was coming to administer one of her 4-6 daily shots. My question was rhetorical, just chatter. She put her hands on my cheeks, and pulled my face close, her breath warm and sweet. Her answer hit me in the gut like a sucker punch. Because you love me. At three, she said this frankly, matter-of-fact, and she's right. I do love her with my whole heart and all my blood and even my bones, and she knows. Her certainty that she is loved is why she can face the pokes and the needles and the blood in a way that breaks my heart into thousands of little pieces and then glues them back together again with pride. Love makes her brave.
Later on that day, I was driving down Pico, heading home from swim lessons. The day had rendered all three of them exhausted and quiet. O was staring out the window, lost in thought. P was singing softly to herself, something about corn horns (unicorns, but don't you dare tell her that is what they are really called). Q was snoring, just like his dad. As we inched our way home, my thoughts wandered back to the morning's conversation. My love makes her brave. That's when I realized that loving them, that's what makes me brave. It caught up with me in that moment, all of it, the stress, the worry, the sleepless nights, the needles, the scary lows, the hoping, the balancing, the pain of not being able to fix it, the fear of making the wrong call, the hurt that I have to inflict day after day. Tears streamed down my face. I am brave enough to face all of it and more, every day, because I love them. I love them with my whole heart, and my blood, and even my bones every minute of every day. Love makes us brave.