“How do you show your mom that you love her?” I asked the boy sitting on a tiny chair in the library of the preschool. I was sitting in front of him, knees to my chin, my bum hanging off of each edge of my own tiny chair, on a mission to find out how these pure, sweet little humans describe such an emotion.
“I cook her turkey,” he replied
And that was that.
I laughed a little as I wrote it down, because it was adorable, but also because he nailed it really.
We adults can truly complicate things. If asked to define love, someone like me might go on to try to describe all the different types of love, or the responsibility that comes with it, or the way your chest aches and swells, the fear and the pride and on and on…
But children? Well they see it a little more clearly I think. You love someone, you cook them food.
Can love really be that simple?
My two-year-old does this new thing where she hugs us tight, squeezes her eyes closed and declares, “I love you too!” It’s cute because it’s not prompted. Like, we don’t tell her we love her first to get this response. She exclaims it as if she knows it’s a given, that we love her and she loves us too and she’s so happy about it. It makes me melt.
Now I should add that a few times she’s hugged my legs and said “I love you too, Pants!” And once, as I was helping her after a bathroom break, she looked in the toilet and said, “I love you too poop in the potty!” But I’m chalking that up to her attempt at humor, so…
“What is love? How do you show it? How do you know it?”
The questions I asked these preschoolers have got me thinking about how abstract a thing love really is and how it can manifest itself in so many ways throughout our lives.
Because I loved both my girls before they were born, before I met them, heard their cries, kissed their little baby heads or held their hands, before they could ever say it back. Or make jokes about it. That’s parenthood.
Showing our love for one another as time moves on may be instinctual, different for every family and one that perhaps we don’t think much about as the years progress.
I have this vivid memory of being about five or six, dancing in the living room with my two sisters, putting on an impromptu performance for our parents. All three of us sisters were young enough at that moment to be filled with such innocent and uninhibited joy and I remember looking over at my mom to find that she was laughing and crying at the same time.
It was a confusing sight and so I stopped my pirouetting to ask her what was wrong. She replied, “I’m crying because I’m so happy.”
I didn’t understand it then, but I understand it now. That was love. It was welling up inside of her, manifesting itself into an expression she couldn’t contain. As a mother of two little girls, it wells up inside me the same way, more often than I care to admit.
But it’s the day-to-day love my parents showed us that I’ve come to understand and appreciate more now that I’m in their shoes. It’s all the caretaking, yes, the nose wiping, clothes buying and bedtime books, but it’s the small touches that they put on those things that made us kids feel safe and secure. Like the patience my mom showed in trying to get my little sister to take her medicine, and the tight squeeze that would come after she finally swallowed it down. Or the way she was gentle with my teenage self-consciousness by never questioning my very questionable fashion choices.
It was the songs my dad made up to go along with the books he read to us at night.
Now that we’re grown my mom’s expression of love has evolved into worrying about the weather weeks before a scheduled trip and my dad has gone from making up songs to passing along a favorite novel. Those are just two examples of the endless ways parental love carries on through our lives. And the love of a child evolves too, from late night nursing sessions, to “I Love You Too” hugs, to a wave from the basketball court to hosting a family meal.
Because as little Dominic so profoundly declared, food is love
And love is everything.