My son was in trouble and he knew it. He didn’t want to go to bed so, somewhat uncharacteristically for him, he yelled, “No!” and lay on the floor refusing to move. I gave him the patented “mom look” and began counting to three. He begrudgingly got up and walked to his room.

A few minutes later as he was climbing into bed, he looked up at me with tears in his eyes. “Mom, do you still love me?” he asked.

I sat down next to him and wrapped my arms around him. “I will always love you,” I told him as I rubbed his back.

“Even when I’m bad?”

“Even then.”

“Even if I yell at you?”

“Yes, even then.”

“If I was really, really bad would you stop loving me?”

In that moment, I felt like I had done everything wrong as a parent, because how could he question my love for him? But even as I struggled with my own sadness over his asking this question, I searched deep inside to find the words that would make him feel better. The words that would make him understand.

“When you were born,” I said, “I took one look at you and I felt my heart leap out of my chest and become yours.”

“Huh?” he asked. I had to remind myself he’s only seven, and tried again.

“It’s like this,” I told him. “All my love is poured into you and your sister. So my heart belongs to you two.”

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“OK . . .” I watched his face carefully as he processed this. Then I took his hand and placed it on his chest, over his heart.

“Do you feel that?” I asked. “Your heartbeat?” He nodded. “OK, good. Did you make it beat? Did you do anything to make it start?”

He shook his head. “That’s right,” I said, “you don’t have to try to make your heart beat, it just does. No matter what, your heart beats, even when you’re not thinking about it. Now try to make it stop.” He looked up at me, alarmed.

“It’s OK,” I said. “Go ahead and try. I’m right here. Focus all of your energy on trying to stop your heartbeat.” He giggled. “No, really. Close your eyes and try to stop your heart from beating.” His face screwed up with effort, his hand held tight against his chest.

“Did it work?” I asked.

“No. I can’t make it stop,” he said.

“Exactly. You can’t. Because no matter what, your heart keeps beating as long as you live. It never pauses, never takes a break. And you can’t stop it even if you want to. Even if you try really, really hard.”

He crawled into my lap and wrapped his arms around my neck.

“I would never for one single second want to stop loving you,” I told him. “But even if I ever had wanted to, I wouldn’t be able to stop it any more than you can stop your heart from beating. A mama’s love happens all on its own, like a heartbeat. I don’t have to try to love you, I don’t have to make myself love you. I just do. And, just like your heartbeat, my love goes on and on forever, no matter what. I couldn’t stop loving you if I tried. Because you are my heart.”

A big smile spread across his face and he nuzzled into my neck. “I love you, Mama,” he said. “I’m glad I’m your heart.”

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Kayci Villarreal

Kayci is a working mom of two hilarious kids living in Southern California. Her hobbies include reading in two-minute increments and sneaking cookies when her kids aren't looking.