When Michael was 3 he attended preschool at AAUW in Waukegan, Illinois. I was a teacher there and Michael, who was a somewhat clingy child, needed to be in communication with me. However, I didn’t think it was appropriate for me to be telling him that I loved him while I was teaching. So we developed a special sign.We decided together what the sign would be and what it would mean – I love you. It was something that he could do if I was in his classroom and no one else would know. It was special between the two of us. While he was in preschool, the sign got used frequently. Many days he would use it 5+ times in the 2 1/2 hours of school.
When Michael went off to Kindergarten, he didn’t want to give me a kiss and tell me that he loved me in front of the other kids, so he used the sign. If I came into his classroom to volunteer, he would use the sign. Otherwise, he wasn’t using it very much.
Michael started playing soccer when he was in 1st grade, and he would use our special sign when he was feeling insecure or happy. For a while, he was using it quite frequently. It makes sense though, as we had just moved from IL to Colorado. And as Michael started growing up, weeks would go by without him using it. But every once in a while, it would come out.
Since it was Michael’s special sign, David wasn’t told about it. I thought that after all the times Michael used it, David would have picked-up on it. Apparently, he didn’t.
Michael and I discovered this when we went to dinner in December. We had gone to IHOP and then were going to a production of A Dickens of a Christmas that was being performed at Michael’s school. Michael was the technical director. During dinner, Michael was sitting across from me and gave me the sign. I gave it back to him and David saw me. I guess he thought it was odd because he asked about it. I explained that it was Michael’s special sign and that we had been doing it for years.
I didn’t expect David’s reaction. He was hurt. He didn’t have a special sign. He was joking around and trying to make light of it, but he was really hurt. I tried to explain to him that he never needed one and Michael did. He understood, but he felt left out – there was something special between Michael and me and he never knew about it. And I felt awful.
I understand. In hindsight, it would have made sense to “give” David something special too. But at the time it never occurred to me. David was more confident and independent and he didn’t seem to need the reassurance that I loved him. He also didn’t mind giving me a hug or kiss in public. He was happy to hold my hand and still does, at times.
Little did I know, 9 years ago, that Michael would still be using our special sign. He, I guess, still needs it at times. However, when meeting Michael’s needs I failed to anticipate how David would feel when he found out. Not my best parenting moment.
To David – I’m sorry I hurt your feelings and you felt left out.