I was one of those kids growing up who brought lunch to school every single day. From the first day of kindergarten to the last day of my senior year of high school, I had a lunch box in the second biggest pouch of my backpack. Usually, the lunch contained a bologna, cheese, and mayo sandwich, some kind of fruit, maybe some baby carrots, another item like chips or fruit snacks, a Capri Sun, and a cookie or piece of candy for dessert.

And a note. Always a note.

A note from my mom that would ask how my day was, or how my test went, or telling me she would see me at my field hockey game after schoolsigned every day the same, “Love you. Love, Mom.” There were some days where she must have been sleepy in the morning because the note would just say, “Hi Ki. Love you. Love, Mom.” But no matter what, the note was there every day.

My friends got into the habit of asking what my note said, or what the Price family was having for dinner that evening. If they were lucky, they’d get a shout out from my mom, “Tell Mandy hi!” Those notes were expected and looked forward to every day, not just by me and my friends, but by my two sisters as well. In fact, my little sister kept all her notes and by the end of high school had a pile big enough to have a bonfire send off to college.

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When I went to college, I found little notes tucked in my belongings that I would find randomly throughout the semester, smiling each time I found a little paper folded in half embosomed with the familiar print. Both semesters I studied abroad, I found notes dispersed throughout my stuff–stuffed in the finger of a glove I was pulling on in the middle of Oxford, England or hidden in a sleeping bag I took camping while in Yosemite. Somehow, I even found notes tucked into clothes and journals when my husband and I moved to China for our first year of marriage.

Years and years of little pieces of home wherever I went, declarations of “Love you. Love, Mom.”

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Now, living across the country from my parents, I can see my mom comment on a Facebook post with those familiar four words and years of declarations are spoken through the computer screen and felt deep in my soul. I can get a text out of the blue with those four words and understand that just because it’s been a couple of months since I’ve seen her, my mom is still waking up in the mornings thinking about her little girl who used to have a bowl hair cut and wear orange obsessively.

I can FaceTime with my parents and hear her say “love you” as we hang up and know she’s wishing instead of a wave to the screen she could give me a hug. I can see her familiar handwriting on a piece of paper from her last visit and be transported to the blue lunch tables of my middle schoolwhere every day I opened my lunch box expectantly and knew without a shadow of a doubt I would find another piece of evidence I was unquestionably loved.

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When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I knew I had large shoes to fill. How was I supposed to convey the same amount and depth of love my mom did to me? Was I capable of loving as unconditionally and dedicatedly as I’ve felt loved my whole life? What was the secret to producing adult children who still understand on a fundamental level they always have been and still are deeply, deeply loved by their parents?

But then I saw a text from my mom that said four words and I knew how.

As soon as my girl was born I said, “Mama loves you, sweet girl.”

During the midnight feeds when neither of us knew what was happening, “It’s OK, baby, Mama loves you.”

When the baby giggles and coos were abundant, “Mama loves you, baby. Mama loves you so much.”

As my baby turned into a toddler and started toddling away from me, “Come back my love. Come back, Mama loves you.”

When the toddler turned to a little girl and time outs became more frequent, “Mama will always love you, you know that?”

After her first ballet recital, “You did great, Mama loves you so much.”

Every night as I tuck her in and kiss her cheek, “Goodnight my love, Mama loves you.”

As my little girl goes to kindergarten in a year or so, I’ll drop her off and tell her how much her mama loves her. And as she learns to read and transitions to calling me “Mom,” I’ll send her to school with a little note tucked in her lunch box. And she’ll know. She’ll know, just like I know, that her mom loves her more than she could ever put into a billion lunchbox notes.

Because, as long as I live, I’ll never stop telling her, “Love you. Love, Mom.”

Kiley Hillner

Kiley Hillner lives in Texas with her husband and two beautiful daughters. She works full time and recently graduated with her MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She is loving life and embracing the chaotic beauty of motherhood. You can find more of her thoughts on this parenting gig on her blog and on Facebook.