Love Love Me Do—by Jamie Levine

I love my daughter. I love her more than anyone or anything else in the whole wide world. And I often tell her this. I also love that she loves me more than anyone or anything else in the whole wide world. Though my strong-willed five-year-old often butts heads with me when she doesn’t get her way, she does clearly adore me. However, lately Jayda’s “I love you’s” have been driving me crazy.

This past summer, I had to take a few graduate school classes that forced me to be away from home at Jayda’s bedtime several nights a week—for several weeks; that meant we sometimes didn’t see each other for almost-24-hour stretches. This adjustment was difficult for both Jayda and me—but she really overreacted. Even though she was being cared for by either a beloved babysitter or her doting grandparents on alternating nights, she became hysterical whenever I called the house to say “goodnight,” and, at times, was inconsolable when she got off the bus and I wasn’t there. “I miss my Mommy!” she’d declare to my parents—who could only assure her that I’d be there in the morning to have breakfast with her. Unfortunately, on the evenings when I was home, bedtime continued to be a nightmare. After I read a few stories to Jayda and lay down with her in her bed to cuddle for a bit, she would beg me to stay with her. And, playing me like a violin, she’d claim, “I’m nervous about you leaving…” When I gently explained that I’d be in my bedroom, but would not sleep with her, and finally got up to leave, she would begin weeping and pleading—ultimately almost making herself sick. Eventually, we fell into a pattern—one that has continued into the fall: I tuck her in with her favorite stuffed animal to cling onto, and oblige to her demand to “give me lots and lots of kisses and hugs.” I’m a very affectionate person, and often hug and kiss my daughter, but these displays of affection have become ridiculous. Jayda insists that I kiss her dozens of times—responding to my lips with long, hard, desperate kisses—like she can’t get enough of me—and when I try to pull away, tearfully begs me for more. After I leave her room (relenting to her nightly request to keep her door open “a crack,” and to leave my door open as well), she yells to me, “Goodnight, Mommy! I love you!” and I respond, “I love you, too…” She then continues, “I love you soooooo much!” and I answer, “I love you more! Go to sleep, Jayda.” She continues, “I love you a million, trillion, zillion…” and, you get the idea. And because if I don’t respond, Jayda gets hysterical and runs into my room, refusing to go to sleep until she hears that I love her, I indulge Jayda a few times with my “I love you, too’s…” before I wind up losing my temper and yelling, “STOP! Be quiet and go to sleep!” Eventually, she does. But not before she grasps onto a picture of the two of us, which is displayed on her night table, and loudly kisses my face on the photo at least a dozen times.

I know my daughter is manipulating me: While I won’t relent and let her sleep with me every night (which is her ultimate goal), or even indulge her in more than a few rounds of fervent kisses and “I love you’s,” she is controlling me on some level. And worse—she’s starting to annoy the hell out of me. But I feel so guilty about it…because what decent mother would complain about a daughter who wants to kiss her and say “I love you” to her too much? It seems insane. Especially when only a few years from now, my then-pre-adolescent daughter may very well be professing to hate my guts! I should treasure Jayda’s “I love you’s” and adoration. And I do—but not this overkill. My greatest challenge lately is figuring out how to articulate to Jayda that while I love her, and love hearing that she loves me, there comes a time when she needs to stop saying it: Quality trumps quantity. But how do you explain that to a desperate—and very clever—five-year-old? It’s not easy….