"Don't hurt me, Mommy," she said tonight.
We were cuddled on the couch watching Disney's Hercules, during which Meg, the embattled love interest, mumbles something to young Herc about how it's easier to be alone, because that way no one can hurt you.
Just moments earlier, I had found myself thinking, "Now how is a four-year-old supposed to interpret a concept like this? A child this age is not going to understand the concept of romance and heartbreak. She's going to think that this woman is afraid that the muscle-bound man might hit her."
Secretly I was hoping that her mind would just gloss over that moment and move on with the story. So when she said, "Don't hurt me, mommy," I thought she was playing out that idea in her mind.
I put my hands on her shoulders, looked her in the eyes, and said, "Q, you know that I would never, ever hurt you, right?"
"I know, mommy," she said gravely, returning my frank stare with her night-black eyes. "And I will never, ever hurt you."
And then she said, "I'll love you forever, Mommy."
Let me step back several years and say that, when we were taking adoption classes prior to our trip to China, one of the many warnings that the adoption counselors gave us was that a child from an institutional background in China will often take longer to trust the women in their lives, since most of the caretakers are women, and therefore the children have already been abandoned (in their view) once (or twice, if you count the original abandonment) by women that they cared for. Therefore, we were told, the child might hold out affection from the female partner in order to protect themselves from further heartache.
Q has always been a happy and optimistic child, and we had very few attachment issues during our early times together. She accepted us, had fun with us, seemed to love us. She was always a happy, humorous and smiling child, a creature of joy.
But I have to admit that during the first three years she always gave her open affection more easily to her daddy. I did not feel outcast, as I had feared. She gave me plenty of love as well. We were very close in many not-so-physical ways, and life was good and fun and full between us. But the openly adoring glances, the broadest smiles, the easiest affection was always for her daddy.
Only in the past month or so has there been a noticeable shift in her affection toward me. It was as if a floodgate had opened abruptly, and her affection was flowing at full volume. She started hugging and kissing me unprompted. She would throw her arms around me at odd, random moments. When she was sad or scared or hurt, she would no longer put a hand on my chest to hold me off when I would try to comfort her. She would kiss without prompting, instead of offering a peremptory cheek when asked for a kiss. She would blurt out "I love you, Mommy!" without my saying it first. She even began to write the letters of her name intermingled with the letters of my name: "Q-M-I-O-U-M-M-Y", when she was perfectly capable of writing both "Qiu" and "Mommy" separately.
"I'll love you forever, Mommy", my new, preternaturally-mature daughter pronounced with intense gravity. "Even when I'm angry."
"And I will love you forever, Q," I told her, making my best effort at not allowing the tears to well up in my eyes.
She nodded once, pragmatically, as if a deal had been made, and we could now move on with our lives together.