Unconditional Love

I stand in the cul-de-sac. Lily is on the bus. I tell her I love her as she climbs on, but she is observing something else, scripting to some other thought process and she doesn’t reply. Her ‘chaperone’ lets her seat herself and he fastens her seat belt before waving to me; the all clear sign.

I intone, “Have a nice day!” to him and he recites, “You too.” And then the door is closing and I’m backing away, waving and smiling until the bus slowly pulls away and makes the slow wide turn to leave the cul-de-sac behind. I continue to wave and say softly, “I love you, Lily”, but she isn’t looking at me. I smile to myself and walk back into the house to get ready for work.

That is our morning ritual, every school day, mostly the same

It’s night and her room is dark. Quiet music is playing. A fan sighs gentle white noise behind us. A lamp on her dresser casts a soft yellow light over her bed. I can just see her dark eyes looking up at me from her pillow through long lashes.

“I’m proud of you Lily. I believe in you. I will love you always, no matter what,” I say. It is a recitation of sorts, but not by rote. I say it to her as I look into her eyes and each word carries with it the full weight of the feeling it is its purpose to describe.

She does not respond. I comb my fingers through her hair as I look at her. As we lie there quietly, her lids flutter slowly closed and she falls asleep, and I smile to myself, continuing to stroke her hair, closing my eyes for a few minutes and enjoying this quiet time.

That is our bedtime ritual, every night, mostly the same.

After prayers I stroke her hair and she quiets her perpetual motion, stills her ceaseless script, and allows herself to relax. And every night I tell her the same thing. I need her to hear it whether she understands the message or not; whether she replies or not.

“This place is always safe. You are always loved. You are always a source of pride.”

When morning comes we’ll start over again…getting ready, eating breakfast, watching TV, doing homework, and then the bus will come and it will take her away to school again.

And every morning that I put her on the bus I will be standing in the cul-de-sac waving to her, smiling, and saying “I love you, Lily.” Because although it isn’t important whether or not she sees me do this, it is imperative to me that if she turns around that is what she sees.

We teach Lily to respond to social etiquette appropriately. When we say goodbye to her we prompt her response. When we greet her we prompt her to say, “hello”. These sorts of social interactions are rote responses for almost everyone.

“Howyadoin’?” has almost completely lost the meaning or intention of the words…it just means “Hi” now for the most part. That’s fine, it’s accepted almost universally. So I’ll prompt her to say hello, or hi, or howyadoin’, and I’ll prompt her to say goodbye. But I do not want to teach her a rote response to “I love you.” It’s just confusing. What if the bus driver says it? What if strangers say it? When should she say it back?

When she understands it. When she means it. When she feels it.

I know Lily loves me; loves us. I don’t need or really want to hear her recite the words by rote, not if they’re just a recitation, not if they’re just a script. They don’t change our feelings of unconditional love. Unconditional love does not require a response. It is not withdrawn sheepishly in the potential lengthening measured metaphorical cricket chirp of the silence that follows its declaration.

If she turns around as the bus pulls away, if the colors flashing by the window aren’t too captivating, if the noisy chatter of her fellow riders isn’t too distracting, If she wonders if I’m still looking…I always want her to know that she will see me standing there, smiling and saying the words, “I love you, Lily.” Always. Unconditionally. No response required.

she turns to see me smiling and waving…

About Jim

Jim is a happily married father of two daughters, one autistic, one not. He writes about autism, parenting, and his busy family life at Just A Lil Blog when his busy family life allows.

50 thoughts on “Unconditional Love

  1. No fair making me cry this morning.
    This was beautiful. My son and I have the same bedtime ritual of a script and our own getting on the bus routine. For me, I stand there and wave until the bus is gone. He never looks back at me out the window unless prompted by the aide. But on that one day…if he does look on his own…I want him to see me waving and not see my back or me heading into the house. To see that spontaneous response back from me.
    I get this all completely.

  2. I’ll admit, I’ve prompted “Love you” more times than I can count, partly because I’ve wanted to hear it and partly because I’ve felt I needed to teach it to him, like so many other things. However, upon hearing your perspective, I agree with you completely. Those prompted “Love you”s don’t bear the same weight, but I also agree that I don’t need to hear it, really. I know my boy loves me. His love is demonstrated in a way that exists outside of language. It’s leaning against me on the couch as he plays his iPad or a smile here and there. That’s love; no words necessary. If he says it unprompted one day, I’ll surely burst into tears of joy. If not, I’ll still know he loves me.

    • I’ve done it too…this isn’t something that I’ve always just KNOWN was right or anything. Just…over time, a dawning realization that I feel WRONG prompting it.

  3. I’m verklempt after reading this; it so closely parallels some of my rituals with Nik. It so perfectly reflects the depth and tenderness of your love for your daughter, too.

    I think it’s so easy for people to picture a mother doing these same sorts of things — especially the nighttime rituals; it’s far less common for a father to share this intimate moment so publicly. In your owrds, I can almost picture my father, perhaps, having done something similar so many years ago. And it makes me weep again.

    Damn you, Jim.

  4. Oh geez. I am all misty….I loved this post. It so encapsulates the exchange that Tate and I have every morning. I wave, say goodbye, and tell him to have a good day. Each. Morning. It’s comforting for both of us. I don’t expect anything in return, but once he waved back at me…and it was lovely.

    • Lily doesn’t really wave…ALTHOUGH…my mother was telling me that she was waving to Emma like crazy a few days ago while Emma was out sledding. (Lily doesn’t like going outside typically). So who knows….

  5. Jim,
    I feel your pain, even if that was not the intended message of your post. But I will tell you this; the day it happens…no, the moment it happens, will be burned into your memory forever. Even after my son started talking again, after being non-verbal for over two years, I never held out hope to hear those three words to him. Those were just words whispered on the wind to him, getting lost in the lights and sounds and activity of everything else that was swirling on around in his world. But that Saturday at 10 AM, I never expected it. As I buckled him into the car I gave him a kiss on the forehead. He giggled at this and as he stopped, he put his head back and said “I love you dad.” Here’s praying for your 10am Satdurday morning.


  6. I love this, Jim. I’ve been prompting John to say ‘I love you’ for as long as I can remember and yet I completely get this and understand. How I long for the day he says it spontaneously.

  7. Had a touching tearful moment reading this blog post. Only to find that while I was having my emotional moment my little one had fed the Ooooo (fish) for the 3rd time this morning (this time the ENTIRE container of food!). I know he loves me by the looks on his face. I would rather know that way than by scripted words back. Never a dull moment….

  8. Excuse me while I go take a quick shower. Something must have gotten in my eyes after the 2nd paragraph. I think it just may have gotten flushed out by the end. 😀

    This was beautiful Jim!

  9. For a while I tried prompting my son to say it back but then I realized I don’t need him to say it. I know he loves his mama, there really is no doubt :). It’s much more important to me that HE knows that he is loved.
    Oh and Hi. :) This is my first time here. I love what you wrote.

  10. I don’t doubt for a second that Lily understands exactly how deeply and unconditionally she is loved. And she does say it back to you, when she feels safe enough to fall asleep beside you every night. Sometimes words just aren’t big enough for a love like that.

  11. My life, in a nutshell. I too watch my son drive away on a bus each morning, and I too stand outside in the driveway, waving, blowing kisses, jumping up and down, proclaiming my love for him, regardless of whether he is looking and paying attention or not. Because I know that any second he could turn around and lock eyes with me and that’s what I want him to see: his mommy wild and crazy in love with him.

    What a beautiful post. Your words are something I understand, your rituals something I can relate to. Thank you for writing it.

  12. I’m thinking Lily knows you know and doesn’t need to say it, because you, Leslie, & Emma know her better than anyone else. So what’s in a word when the feelings are so profound?

    PS- you are an awesome daddy. :)

  13. I’ve got 2 kids on the spectrum. My youngest daughter, Nelda, says I love you to me all the time, and also doesn’t want to be apart from me ever, so I’m very lucky there. My son, who is almost 16, stays in his room most of the time, and only comes out for food. If I say I love you to him, he might say “OK”, if he replies at all. But every now and then, he will do something to let me know, like bring me a cup of coffee, or suggest to me a show or a movie that he thinks I would probably like, or even smile at some lame attempt at a joke I have made. These things might seem like nothing to someone who doesn’t know him, but to me it feels like a great big hug and an “I love you too, Mom”.

    And now I’m crying.

  14. The really cool thing is, that as my son is getting older now and is more verbal…he REMEMBERS all the things that went on when he was not speaking. It’s crazy. So, while your girl may not be responding, it does not meant that the tape recorder is not running! I kid you not, my boy apologize to me last week for something that occurred back when he was probably FOUR. “I’m sorry, Mom. I was leaving the porch and you were calling me by both my names (first and middle) but I really wanted the marble toy in the garage so I didn’t listen.” Pretty darn amazing how their brains work. KEEP doing exactly what you’re doing :).

  15. Jim – both my eldest son and I are on the spectrum (I learned much much later in life, by way of his journey). A couple of years back, I think before the diagnosis, I just started telling him and other members of the family that I liked them because LOVE seemed to have more power then I could offer.

    I now will break the quiet of the house to yell out to find a kid … to tell them ‘hey – I like you’. It is spontaneous activity, and catches the kids’ friends by surprise when I, in turn, tell THEM that I like them.

    Hey Jim – I like your blog. ;D

  16. Wow. I just stumbled onto your blog via ‘Autism with a Side of Fries.” This is the most touching thing I’ve read in a very long while. You’ve definitely got a new follower, here. =)

  17. Yep, you made me cry too, and at work! Thanks a lot!

    This makes me think of a recent coversation I had with Danny. He called me at work to ask a question. I answered him and then as we were ending the conversation, I said, “I love you, Danny.”

    There was absolute silence at the other end. He usually says something in response even if not “I love you, too.”

    So, I said, “Are you still there?” And he answered, “Yeah, you can hang up now.” That still makes me chuckle.

    Anyway, great post.

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