Isaac said he hated me today for the first time ever. He was tired from not getting much sleep the night before and frustrated and having a tantrum over something. I was nursing a sleeping Elinor in bed at the time and so told him to go take a nap or at least calm down in his own room. As he went, he stopped and turned around at the doorway and said to me through controlled sobs the very worst thing a mother can hear from her child: "I hate you."
In that moment, my heart seemed to stop beating, my brain gone numb. I felt winded, like someone had just punched me in the gut. I couldn't think what to reply, what to say to my sweet child who very clearly knew what he was saying even if he didn't understand the full meaning of it. So I said nothing. He continued on to his room and calmed down, ultimately falling asleep as I knew he would.
Isaac didn't know how better to express his extreme anger with me for putting him on time-out (even if it wasn't a formal time-out, he viewed it as such). He has overheard us using the word every now and then in jest or in frustration, but he never observed that the word was only ever directed to situations or things and not people. How could he? The fault is ours for taking such a harsh word and making it common. Yes, I'm sure he has heard it from other sources as well, but I won't be passing the buck on this one.
As for what I said to Isaac when I finally recovered from the sting of shock, I went into his room before he fell asleep and told him what a harsh word that was, but that no matter what he ever said or did to me I would always love him. Such is a mother's burden and privilege: to love her children unconditionally, no matter how much they're hurting inside. And it still does. But I still do.