"Love you too, babe/sweetie" is usually what I say. Once when she said "Love you, Daddy" as she was going upstairs, he didn't respond quickly enough because he was reading the paper, and when she pressed him he called out distractedly, "See ya", and after soundly mocking and scolding him she now demands the same response from him every time. But I just say "Love you too", or, occasionally, "Love you more", if I have the time and energy for a protracted "nuh-uh, I love YOU more" battle, which we have now enshrined in this bracelet (which I gave to her):
and this mug (which she made for me):
Anyway. It adds up to several I love you mamas a day, sometimes a dozen or more. And sometimes I muse about whether we say it too much. I think about people I've heard saying it makes them nauseous how some families can't stop drivelling on about how much they love each other. I wonder if there's a chance that we're chafing the words smooth, wearing off their meaning.
Then I think of the years that are coming. She's two hands now. Double digits. Tough days could be coming. Days when she doesn't see things the way I do, when she rails at me and flails against me in the course of forging her own path. Unkind words could fly between us.
When I think ahead to these days, I imagine that the all the I love yous we trade now are being laid against our bodies as a kind of armour. When the railing and flailing and unkind words start flying, maybe we'll both have that shield, forged from so many loving words, as protection against lasting damage.
It's worth a shot, anyway.