"I love you": the three little words that every parent waits to hear. Many parents of children on the spectrum have to wait longer than most to hear them; some have to learn to recognize other expressions of the sentiment. With Bud, however, we never have to wait long to hear "I love you." Hearing it is not a challenge; interpreting it, on the other hand, can be.
"I love you" is sort of Bud for "Aloha," in that it means different things at different times and in different contexts. Sometimes it's a greeting, as when he creeps into the dark bedroom where his father is sleeping, crouches up by his dad's head and says "I love you, Daddy." (Translation: "I know you're not much of a morning person, but I'd love it if you'd wake up, and if you do wake up, it'd be great if you would not be cranky.")
It's also a farewell, as when I am leaving for work while he's engrossed in watching Jack's Big Music Show on Noggin and I'm distracting him by trying to say goodbye and get one more kiss: "ILOVEYOU!" (Translation: "Okay, okay, goodbye already!")
At other times it's a request, as when he sidles up to his grandfather who is eating slices of apple for breakfast and says "I love you, Papa. What a great breakfast!" (Translation: "Can I have some of that apple?")
Sometimes it's a comforting phrase designed to let me down easy, as when I suggest that we not watch Barney Christmas for the hundredth time and instead watch Elmo's Christmas: "I love you, Mom. Another day." (Translation: "Don't take this personally, but no.")
Frequently it's a diversionary tactic, as when we are sitting at the dining room table, hear a loud CRASH from upstairs, and shout "Bud, what are you doing?" The response comes instantly shouted back: "I love you!" (Translation: "I'd rather not discuss it." A side note, the other common answer to this question in similar scenarios is "Just helping.")
Still other times, it's an admission of guilt, as when I am standing at the stove cooking dinner and he walks up to me quietly and says, "I love you." (Translation: "You know that bowl you told me not to touch...?")
Very often it's an apology: "Bud, please stop banging those pans!"; "I love you." (Translation: "Sorry.")
And sometimes, when he and I are both at our dysregulated worst, when I'm frustrated and angry, when I've lost my cool and started shouting, when I have just frayed my very last nerve, it's a reminder to keep things in perspective, as he moves his impish little face nose-to-nose with mine, blinks his long Bambi-lashes, and gives me a tight-lipped grin: "You not angry; you happy. I love you." (Translation: "Is it really all that important, Mom?" Funny - it never is.)
But my very favorite "I love you, Mama" is the one that comes accompanied by his little arms around my neck, his face buried, breathing warmth into the crook of my neck. That's the one that means - well, just "I love you."
And it's in that spirit at this holiday season that in addition to our usual litany of good wishes, Bud and I send one more out to our friends in the Austismland blogosphere:
We love you.