"Mommy, do you still love me?" Her giant blue eyes were welling with tears, her lip quivered. My heart shattered.
"Of course I do! Why would you ask that?"
I couldn’t think of a single reason or event that would justify such a gut-wrenching question from a 3 year old. From my 3 year old.
"I dropped my toy. I thought you were mad," she replied while wiping her tears with the back of her hand.
"I will always love you, no matter what. Even when I get mad, I love you. Nothing will ever make me stop loving you. Nothing. Ever. You understand? I will love you forever."
And, with that she smiled and hugged my arm. She told me she loved me and bounded off to play. I was left trying to figure out what just transpired.
I was working on this column when she had come in to tell me she dropped her toy. It has fallen from her hands and hit her lip. She wasn’t hurt, but felt the need to tell me about it. I had checked her face and made sure she was OK. I had kissed her and gone back to my work. I couldn’t think of anything I had done to make her think I had ceased to love her.
Maybe, in her mind, I had gotten mad. Maybe, in her still developing brain, being mad meant no longer loving. I tried to brush it off. I tried to write about something else. But the question kept creeping into my head: What is love to a child? I never remember teaching it to her. She never once mentioned it in her barrage of questioning everything. Love was something she instinctually knew. It was something she felt and learned, somehow, to associate with the word. Her daddy and I had been saying, "I love you" to her since before her ears were functional and she was still occupying the space behind my belly button. Did she learn by osmosis? Did she absorb the love we have for her and figured it out that way? Or, what if, she wasn’t actually sure of what love was at all, and that was why she questioned my stance?
The only way to find out was to ask her. I called her back into the kitchen where I had been contemplating. "Kiddo, what is love?"
She thought for a minute, head slightly cocked to one side, eyes looking off into the distance. A smile slowly formed and grew larger as her thinking took shape and then formed words, "You mommy!"
I melted on the spot. Scooped her up and held her tight. I blinked back tears, not wanting her to see me cry. Happy tears were still an oddity we discussed frequently. She asked me if I was done hugging her yet.
"Almost," I lied. After her response, I may never be done hugging her. I managed to peel myself away before out sweet embrace became a full-fledged wrestling match. She scampered off to do whatever it was that she was up to at the moment and I turned back to my computer screen.
I was the definition of love for my daughter. If I took a step away from my own emotions and looked at her answer objectively, it made sense. Perfect sense. I embody safety, warmth, soothing, and happiness for her. I have been the center to her slowly growing universe for more than three years. It would make sense that she would describe such a complex emotion with one word. Mommy.
My thoughts turned to other kids. Do they have a similar description? Does age change their definition? Do we adults over complicate a basic human emotion by trying to define it? I took to my Facebook page and asked parents to have their kiddos fill in the blank:
Love is ____ .
Here is a little of what I received.
"Mommy." -- 2 year old.
"Kisses. True love is best friends." -- 4-and-a-half year old.
"The most important thing in the whole wide world." -- 5 year old.
"Something that keeps you together no matter how far away you are." -- 10 year old.
"Strong." -14 year old.
"The force that keeps this world alive and gives us meaning to survive."-- 15 year old.
Their answers showed that, as adults, we tend to overcomplicate things. Dictionary.com has over 27 definitions of what love is. After reading what the kids said and then the 27 things the dictionary had to say, I had a thought. What if we just let go and loved. Ignored preconceived notions of what love is and what it isn’t. What if we started to define love by what we know instead of what we think it should be? What if, when we fell, we enjoyed the plunge instead of praying while we plummet that we land with our hearts and heads intact? What if we love thoroughly without constraints and fear?
What if we loved like our children?
Join me on Tuesday, Feb. 18, at the River Garden in downtown Brattleboro. I will be there for a "Meet Your Columnist" series presented by The Strolling Of The Heifers. Bring your lunch and hang out with me (and the kiddo!). I am looking forward to meeting you all!
Michelle writes from the home she shares with her husband, their three year old daughter and two dogs. She is the authority on nothing and may just be the most outgoing shy person you will ever meet. Her daughter is convinced she is a super hero but most days she feels more like the super villain. Read more of her work on her blog at www.JuiceboxConfession.com or "like" her on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/JuiceboxConfession. All love letters can be sent to JuiceboxConfession@gmail.com