After Saturday came Sunday. A day that will live long in my memory. A day I told Geoff just a month or two ago that I (genuinely) believed would never come.
It was mid afternoon, about 2:10 I noticed a little later because I wanted to mark the moment in time, and I was sitting in the library with Seth on my lap. We were chatting.
I don't even remember what we were chatting about...it's faded into insignificance.
But he was periodically interjecting our chat with gentle kisses to my cheeks and forehead. I was still in shock about this. It was almost too much for me. Yes, this child who has not kissed now wanting to be that close and plastering my face with his kisses was almost too much for me. It was a whole new dynamic to accustom myself too.
I closed my eyes at one point and just felt. So that I could learn and remember. I know the feel of Matthew's and Lizzie's lips on my skin...could tell them apart from a thousand others'. But I didn't know the touch of Seth's lips. How strange, I thought, not to know the feel of my own child, not to know until then that his kiss was lighter and drier than Lizzie's suction cup kisses and and shorter and breathier than Matthew's lingering kisses.
And so we sat there engaged in both conversation and long-awaited gestures of deep affection. It wasn't that different a feeling than falling in love.
He asked me if I liked it when he kissed my cheek and I said that I loved it.
I said that I loved him.
As soft as a sigh, absent of fear, a natural overflowing of a full heart:
"I love you, too, Mommy."
Instantly, tears gathered up and threatened to spill over the brim of my already-full cup.
"What?" I asked, completely certain I'd misheard. My voice was rough. I've loved this boy forever, just never expected to hear it back.
His hands were on my cheeks then and he was looking into my eyes. No more hiding.
"I love you with my whole heart, Mommy."
Seriously. I burst into tears. Instantly. Not the pretty, gentle, casual-slide-down-the-cheek kind. The ugly kind. Pouring out of my eyes and, I'm sure, my nose. I gushed everywhere.
A fountain of thanksgiving.
I shocked him.
"Mommy?" he yelled. "Are you ok? Wait. I'm going to get Daddy."
I tried to tell him that I was ok, that these were happy tears, relieved tears, oh-so-thankful tears, but he was gone.
Not ten seconds later, with Seth shrieking for Daddy, the remaining four members of my family rushed into the library and stood staring at me. Then Seth dove onto my lap and put his arms around me, and held me tight, squeezed so tight, with arms I didn't have to ask to squeeze. His tight arms held me in the words he'd just said.
I couldn't stop. I tried. I wiped my eyes and face and I tried. I didn't have enough shirt.
The best I could do was to somehow get words out to tell a concerned Geoff that Seth loved me. He relaxed and then grinned in face of my flood. And sat down in the chair next to me. He knew. It's been a long road.
Seth raised his head from my shoulder and looked at Geoff.
"I love you, too, Daddy," he said. I think Geoff may have felt a little like I was looking.
"I love you, too, Lizzie," Seth added for good measure, looking at her on Geoff's lap. She beamed and reciprocated.
In slow motion, Matthew approached the chair where Seth and I sat. Eyes glued to the boy on my lap. Hope shining clearly, painfully, from the eyes of this child who has told Seth hundreds of times that he loves him and has heard "ok" or "thank you" in return. It's been so hard.
I knew what was coming and I prayed. Truly my soul prayed that Seth had just one more in him because his brother needed it badly.
"Seth?" Matthew asked, voice quiet and oh-so-terribly-hopeful. It was a question.
"Seth," he said again. "Do you love me, too?"
Seth turned to look at Matthew. "Yes, Matthew, I love you, too," he said.
I exhaled. I think the sun could not have been brighter than Matthew's face.
"Mom, he said that he loves me," Matthew said, eyes huge, face full of wonder and something akin to disbelief.
I could only beam, a reflection of Matthew's smile.
"Can I kiss you, Seth?" Matthew asked, pushing just a little. A little too hard.
"No," responded Seth, tucked back against my chest. "Not yet."
I smiled at Matthew and gave him a silent thumbs up behind Seth's back and we exchanged long, full looks. Kisses or not, we both know how long we've waited for Seth's heart to open. Many conversations and past tears were wrapped up in that look we shared over Seth's shoulders.
What I realized later was that it wasn't only that I wanted the words. What I was so relieved about, so overflowing with, was Seth. The words are merely the symptom of what's going on inside of him that is so huge - he's allowing himself to feel again after such loss. Such pain. And this is going to change his life, I can feel it. When I was crying those unstoppable tears, it was like the dam of relief burst, a font of knowledge that this child that I love more than my own life is going to be ok. He's going to have baggage and issues and all of that and the journey's not over, but he's opening up his heart and allowing people in there. Really in there. Trusting and knowing that he's safe, understanding that we're not leaving.
That's the miracle. Truly.
We went out for dinner on Sunday to celebrate all of the love in our family...a kind of Forever Family day, I suppose. But better. It was a time of celebration. We were all grinning. We wanted messy, finger-licking ribs, and so ribs we got. Matthew asked if we could please have all of the ribs and fries together on one big platter to eat from, because we were celebrating being a together family. What a great idea, and so that's what we asked for.
Later, when I tucked a sated Seth into bed and told him that I loved him, he said it back with no reserve and there were no better words to hear because I know the price he has paid for them. Moments later, he expressed it himself when he said that it was still hard to say the words out loud; it was still scary. I said that I understood that, that it was so brave of him to say those words because it was hard. I smiled and said that this was something that would get easier with practice. He smiled back and said the words again and he kissed my cheek good night.
"I love you, Mommy." Words spoken from a healing soul. Words spoken to a healing soul.
I dreamed of ribs that night. Because the ribs did come to us on one big platter as requested...a really big platter served up with love. Lots and loves of love.
Hallelujah. No more petal pulling.