Three little words


“What did you say?”

I was pretty sure I’d heard correctly, even though it had been barely above a whisper, not actually meant for my ears, much, and as I turned around, I felt myself kind of switch ON, mentally, emotionally. I wanted to get this right.

He wasn’t looking at me, except almost, sideways.

“Come, here,” I sat on the couch and put out my arms. He came the two steps toward me and crumpled in. He was in his pj’s, barefoot. It was about four-thirty on a “home day” for the two of us, and I had just asked him to pick up the pillows and blanket he’d tossed off the couch. Again.

“I’m pretty sure,” I said gently, “that you just said you… hate me. Did I hear that right?” My voice was steady; I wasn’t mad, not at all.

Tiny nod.

“Hmm… ” I sighed, and rubbed his back a little. “So… here’s the thing… I know, I actually do know, that you don’t. Hate me.

“And I know that you were mad, mad enough to want to say… something that FELT as mad as YOU felt. ”

Another tiny nod.

“And even, maybe, something that would hurt my feelings.”


“So, here’s the other thing,” I went on. Still, not mad.

“You can BE mad. Totally mad. We are GOING to get mad at each other. It isn’t easy, living together all the time– we’re GONNA get mad… but… we have to agree to not, at least, to try to not hurt each other.”

Tiny nod.

“And,” entering the home stretch, “there’s still gonna be stuff we just have to do, We don’t have to like it and we might be mad. But we do have to do it.”

Talking this whole thing over with Josh I realized how important it was that, emotionally, I was at “zero” during the whole interaction. Though Alden was bent out of shape about the pillow-pick-up, I wasn’t frustrated or mad. I wasn’t tired or frayed. I didn’t hear those three little words– “I hate you”– as an attack. If I had, I might have hurled something mad back in his direction. Might have escalated this tiny arms race of the heart.

I also realized– he was really only barely trying it on, this big powerful phrase (I hate you.) I had never heard him say it before. He whispered it so quietly, it was as if he was testin it out in his own mouth. If I’d been more distracted, busier, rushed, multitaskin… I might have missed it.

And, in either of those alternative situations, his experience of those three little words would have been very, very different.

They might have been missed– in which case, what… they have no power? Or they need to be louder? Or it doesn’t matter?

They might have been responded to with a hurricane of Mama’s emotions, an overreaction fueled by MY needs of the m,oment.

I feel like I made a diving catch for the third out (sports metaphor vetted by Josh, thanks, sweetie).

I feel like I got lucky. Funny way to feel about those three little words. But I do.


6 thoughts on “Three little words

  1. One morning in 1981, as I went into the bathroom to shave before breakfast, I noticed that a previous shower taking had left the bathroom mirror all fogged up. Before wiping off the steam, I noticed that a previously wiped off statement “F— Mama” had magically reappeared. I’m telling this to others for the first time. Join the club.

    • Hmmm… Dad, was that the incident that prompyted you (and mom, maybe) to have a “handwriting test”—- OH, NO, wait—- that was when SOMEONE (nameless) (Oh, OK, Claire) wrote “grace is a bum” on the WALL???? right. I ‘member that one. You made ME write it, in the interest of fairness.
      Ahh, parenting is grand. 🙂

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