If you’ve ever been a child (and most likely you have), or are one, then you have probably said something that was so darn cute that it became a family inside joke. This is about one of ours.

I don’t recall at what age it started, but, I do recall that it began with my oldest—when she was very young. It was just another day of me heading out the door to go to work. I was saying my ‘good-bye’s and ‘I love you’s to my wife and children. It all started there, with, “I love you.”

Again, my recollection of the details is a little foggy. I think it began with my daughter. I would say, “I love you.” to her. She would respond with, “I love you too.” Typical. That’s what most people do. Then, one day someone made it playful. “I love you.” “I love you too.” “I love you three.” A slight surprise. You can do that?! And, I was off to work.

The next day was like the one before, except my daughter definitely wanted to get to say the, “I love you three.” I know because when I said it, she asked to try again, and asked if she could start it. So, I did. She got to say, “I love you three.” and it made her so happy that she got to one-up her dad. For whatever reason, children like to beat their parents at something. I believe—if done correctly—it can be a healthy relationship-building moment. Sort of like the student surpassing the master. The parent teaches their child so well, that the child understands and succeeds and grows, as an individual. Good, positive self-growth. Not a ‘HA! I beat you, sucker!’ kind of situation. That’s not healthy.

So, yeah, my daughter out-loved me. Well, she was learning her counting. So, let’s help her.

Next day, “I love you.” “I love you two.” “I love you three.” “I love you four.” Now I had done it. This complexed her. Four? You can love four?! She looked a little confused, and possibly frustrated, that she had been out-loved by her father. And, off I went to work.

Let’s try this again. “I love you.” “I love you two.” “I love you three.” “I love you four.” And I was about to walk away when, “I love you five.” Oh, man. She did it. She figured it out. I had no choice. I knelt back down and said, “I love you six.” “I love you seven.” She was so proud of herself. I was too. However, after we got to the tens, mom intervened and pointed out that dad needed to get to work.

Another day, another twist. “I love you.” “I love you two.” “I love you three.” “I love you more.”

She had done it by accident. She had told me she loved me ‘more’ instead of ‘four’. This ended the counting. But, she had out-loved me again.

The next day, I got the, “I love you more.” because she was so eager to play the game, she started it. She did like that. She liked to love me more than I loved her.

Once again, there we were. At the doorway. I was leaving for work. Love was being spoken in challenging ways. I had to start it. My daughter requested it. She got the, “I love you more.” So, I told her that, “I love you most.” And, it was done. You can’t beat ‘most’. After that, the game was over. Someone would start the ‘love’, and the other got to love ‘the most’. It no longer mattered. We both loved each other a lot. It was clear.

Eventually, that game slipped away. I tried it with each of my boys. They didn’t play. Then, with my second daughter, I tried again. (it’s a fun game) She played. She played for keeps.

It all started very much like with my first. The playful “I love you” and “I love you too” and “three”. The ‘four’ became a ‘more’ and then ‘most’. Lots of fun. Then, rather quickly, it became serious. My youngest shortcutted the “I love you” protocol and went straight for the throat. I said, “I love you.” and she blurted out, “I love you most! I win!” She wins? What?! This was a competition? Oh, boy…

After that, that’s what it was: Competition. We would tell each other that we loved them, and one of us would attempt to yell out “I love you most.” the fastest, followed by the triumphant call of, “I win!” Thus reigning in victorious love, lauded over the other. Because that’s what love is.
I know what I wrote.

As the years would progress, on occasion, if someone began the traditional challenging battle cry of, “I love you.” the other would quickly shout out, “I love you most. I win.” Thus negating the other’s love. Rendering their feelings invalid. And, ensuring victorious ‘most’ love over the other, once and for all. On a regular basis.

All done with play—and love.

She is seventeen now. There are still days where, as she heads out the door for school, one of us challenges the other with an, “I love you most. I win.” To which the other responds, “No, I win!” and this continues until she pops out the door and shuts it so as to not hear me say, “I win.” Because, if you don’t hear it, it doesn’t count. (I know what I wrote)

Occasionally, I will open the door and yell at her—as she walks down our driveway, “I win.” And, without turning around (because she heard the door open) she will yell back, “I win.” And, so, there we are, yelling out “I win.” toward each other, in the wee hours of the morn’, attempting to let the other know that we love them more than they love us by shouting, “No, I win!” and “I win.” at each other. I wonder what the neighbors must think…?

It doesn’t really matter.

I win.

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