I Have to Tell You Something

She was three years old when I sat her down and tried a new strategy.

“When Mommy is talking to someone else or busy doing some work and you have something you want to say, don’t just start talking. That’s called interrupting. You may get my attention by saying, ‘Excuse me’ or ‘Mommy, I have to tell you something,’ and then you wait until I finish what I’m doing and tell you I’m ready.”

“Okay!” she said, perpetually cheerful when she wasn’t furious.

She took to this new method right away. Sort of. She found it hard to wait for me to finish and focus on her. Often, she didn’t wait at all. But she DID always preface everything she said with, “Mommy, I have to tell you something.”

“Mommy, I have to tell you something…I am so hungry!” “Mommy, I have to tell you something…I can’t find my Hello Kitty!” “Mommy, I have to tell you something…my bandaid fell off!”

She became the expert in having to tell me something. In fact, sometimes she would say it without any follow up plan at all.

“Mommy, I have to tell you something.”

“Okay, I’m listening.”

“Um…um…look at my shoes! They’re red.”

They are indeed red. They’re also a year old, sweetie. Not exactly breaking news.

“Mommy, I have to tell you something.”

“Just a minute, babe, I’m on the phone.”

“Mommy, I really have to tell you something.”

“Please wait patiently.”

“Mommy, I HAVE to tell you something.”

“Okay, I’m done. Go ahead.”

“Um…sometimes Luke Skywalker wears a helmet.”

Well, I respect your Star Wars knowledge, darling, but I’m not sure if I see the urgency of that communication.

“Mommy, I have to tell you something. Mommy, I have to tell you something.” It took me a couple of weeks of the endless refrain to finally catch on to what was happening. Sometimes I’m a little slow.

“Mommy, I have to tell you something.” She may have just been repeating what I told her to say, but the words were exactly accurate. It wasn’t “Mommy, I have something to tell you.” It was “Mommy, I have to tell you something.” Something. Anything. It’s not important what I have to say but just that I get the chance to say it. To have your attention. To talk to you and know that you are listening.

Annoying as it often was, she was definitely onto something. She instinctively understood the heart of communication. The point isn’t the exchange of information. The point is the relationship.

I mean, think about it. Anything she truly needed, I would give her without her having to ask. Regular meals. Clean clothes. Exercise and activity. Naps and cuddles. Correction and discipline.

But she still needed to tell me things. Lots of things. Big things and little things and things that were barely even things at all. Because that’s how we connected. How I came to know her and she came to know me.

How we’re still coming to know one another, actually. She doesn’t use the whole sentence any more, but there’s still usually that little intro. “Mom?” Pause. All the thoughts and questions.

After all these years, I still sometimes forget to slow down and listen. I still sometimes think I’ll lose my mind if I hear the word “Mom” one more time. But I’m learning. I’m learning Stranger Things trivia and more about the wives of Henry VIII than I ever wanted to know. But I’m also learning about this wonderful person that lives in my house. How her mind works and what she loves and who is inspiring her today.

Okay, sweetie, I’m listening. Go ahead.

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