Last year, while my son, Graham and I were visiting my daughter, Erin, I made a big fuss over my grand-puppy, Mr. Rochester. Mr. Rochester was, in fact, not a puppy at all, but I like to refer to him as my grand-puppy, since he's my daughter's dog and it's fun to be silly with him.
"Oh, Mr. Rochester," I cried, in a high-pitched silly voice, "what a good dog you are!" Then I told him to sit. "Goooood Boy!" I squealed.
Graham was eleven at the time. He usually wanted to be taken seriously, to be treated with respect. So I was surprised when he asked me, "How come you never tell me I'm a good boy?"
"Well," I stuttered, temporarily at a loss for words, "I do. I always tell you when you do a good job, and when you make me happy."
"Not like that!" Graham insisted.
"Do you want me to talk to you like that?" I asked.
"Yes!" he said.
For a while, I tried to inject a little more enthusiasm and gaiety into my praising of him. I even talked to him just as if he were a beloved dog. He seemed to eat it up. But once we were away from Mr. Rochester, he soon forgot his jealousy and was aptly pleased with more appropriate praise.
A short time later, I was leaning against Keith and telling him in my silly romantic voice how much I loved him and how sweet and cute he was. Graham came into the room and said, "How come you never talk to me like that?"
"Because," I answered, "You're my son and the apple of my eye. You're my little sweetie and Dad is my big sweetie, and there's a difference between the two. I love you both, but I love you in different ways."
"I want you to tell me how cute I am," he said.
"You are very cute," I replied, truthfully, but it just didn't sound the same, even though I was sincere. Even though my voice was full of love.
"Yeah, right," Graham said, tuning in to the difference in the inflection in my voice.
This is the same boy who goes off to school without even saying goodbye most of the time. If I want a goodbye hug, I have to grab him and give it to him. At family gatherings, if there are no children, he wants to sit in my lap and be my baby, but if there are children, I may as well be a piece of furniture.
When he asks me to make him a milkshake and then gobbles it without a thank you, I want to say, "How come you don't tell me I'm a good girl?" but I don't. When he says he'll run off and live with Aunt Sandy if I'm mean to him, I want to say, "How come you don't love me the way you love her?" But I don't.
I know that love is enduring. That we love each person differently. That there are ups and down in our feelings, and that our attention is sometimes diverted elsewhere, but the love continues underneath.
I am blessed by the fact that Graham, now 12, is surprisingly affectionate still. He is warm and capable of acts of great kindness and love. I can usually remember this when he seems to be ignoring me or being rude.
If he thinks I'm ignoring him, I have to remember that he is still a child, and that it is hard for him to remember the enduring nature of love, how it runs like a river deep underneath everything. If he's feeling ignored, or second best, I have to tell him I love him. I have to show him my love him the best I can in the all the unique ways that I love him.