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The six words your spouse and children need to hear today

By Rachel Macy Stafford

For Hands Free Mama

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 24 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Updated: Wednesday, Dec. 3 2014 11:37 p.m. MST

After the meet, my daughter and I stood in the locker room together, just the two of us. I wrapped a warm, dry towel around her shivering shoulders. And then I looked into her eyes and said, "I love to watch you swim. You glide so gracefully; you amaze me. I just love to watch you swim."

OK, so it wasn't quite six words, but it was a huge reduction in what I normally would have said. And there was a reaction — a new reaction to my end of the meet "pep talk."

My daughter slowly leaned into me, resting her damp head against my chest for several seconds, and expelled a heavy sigh. And in doing so, I swear I could read her mind:

The pressure's off. She just loves to watch me swim; that is all.

I knew I was onto something.

Several days later, my 5-year-old daughter had ukulele practice. It was a big day for her. The colored dots that lined the neck of her instrument since she started playing almost two years ago were going to be removed. Her instructor believed she was ready to play without the aid of the stickers.

After removing the small blue, yellow and red circles, her instructor asked her to play the song she has been working on for months, Taylor Swift's "Ours."

With no hesitation, my daughter began strumming and singing. I watched as her fingers adeptly found their homes — no need for colorful stickers to guide them.

With a confident smile, my daughter belted out her favorite line, "Don't you worry your pretty little mind; people throw rocks at things that shine ..."

As her small, agile fingers maneuvered the strings with ease, I had to look away. My vision became blurred by the tears that formed. In fact, this emotional reaction happens every time she gets to that line of the song. Every. Single. Time.

I cry not because she has perfect pitch.

I cry not because she is a country music star in the making.

I cry because she is happy; she has a voice; and she is free.

And I cry because I love to watch her play.

I'll be darned if I hadn't told her this in so many words or rather, in so few words.

My child and I exited the room upon the completion of her lesson. As we walked down the empty hallway, I knew what needed to be said.

I bent down, looking straight into the blue eyes sheltered behind pink spectacles and said, "I love to watch you play your ukulele. I love to hear you sing."

It went against my grain to not elaborate, but I said nothing about the dots, nothing about the notes and nothing about her pitch. This was a time to simply leave it at that.

My child's face broke into her most glorious smile — the one that causes her eyes to scrunch up and become little slices of joy. And then she did something I didn't expect. She threw herself against me, wrapped her arms tightly around my neck and whispered, "Thank you, Mama."

And in doing so, I swear I could read her mind:

The pressure's off. She loves to hear me play; that is all.

Given the overwhelmingly positive reactions of my daughters when presented with the short and sweet "I love to watch you play" remark, I knew I had a new mantra. Not that I would say it like a robot upon command or without reason, but I would say it when I FELT it — when tears come unexpectedly to my eyes or when suddenly I look down and see goosebumps on my arms.

Pretty soon I found myself saying things like:

"I love to watch you read."

"I love to watch you swing across the monkey bars."

"I love to watch you gently admire God's smallest creatures."

"I love to watch you love your baby cousin."

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