"I love you, Mommy."
Those four words have more impact on me than volumes of books combined. I waited my whole life to hear them spoken and now have that privilege. My older daughter will stop mid-playing, just to remind me of her affections. The baby will walk past me and pucker up her tiny mouth to kiss me, nodding when I tell her I love her. It is effortless. They were born, I fell in love.
Not all love is that effortless. Some love you have to work at. Sometimes, it doesn't come so effortlessly. There will be moments, even in the greatest of love stories, where two people will have to actively commit to making their love work. I believe, that is what makes it so special.
I grew up watching movies where the girl and boy would lock eyes across a crowded room, subway station, classroom, or park and just know. Their love would be immediate and intense. They would fight to stay together, overcoming great obstacles, but, in the end, they would always end up in each other's arms. In love. Easily.
You never saw the late night conversations, the arguments, the silences thick with anger and sadness. You didn't see the words that were spoken in haste and regretted instantly. The reality of the greatest loves were never shown in those movies.
I also, fortunately, grew up seeing real love. The kind made of years of respect, kindness, sacrifice, and compromise. I had the great honor of witnessing love that persevered. It was sometimes quiet love. A stolen glance, a smile, a passing hug. It was holding hands in the car on the way to visit family. It was cooking his favorite dinner, even though she hated it. It was moving to a new home, to make her happy, even though it wasn't what he wanted. It was real and flawed and perfect.
It was a love that even death could not end. It was a love that, after 63 years he said "I would do it all again."
We live in a time where there are 1.2 million divorces a year in this country. Meanwhile, an entire population of couples fight for the right to marry. Even as the institution of marriage outwardly seems to be crumbling, people are building it up, defending it, redefining it, and carrying it forward. Love wins. Even when it is falling apart, love can win with enough fight.
I struggled to find love for myself for so many years. I did not appreciate the incredible being that I was. I struggled daily and fought with myself, waging a war in my head. Giving birth and being able to nurture my daughters has done a lot in my journey, as has my husband's unconditional love. If I could produce such amazing people and be the recipient of immense amounts of love, why shouldn't I love myself?
I hope to be an example for my daughters. I hope they experience great love in their lives. I hope they love each other, themselves, their future partners, their families. I hope they love deeply and strongly and fight for that love. I hope they hold it close and refuse to let it go. And, I hope, after 80-plus years of life, after great love and great loss, we can all look back on life and say that we would do it all over again.
Michelle is a writer, wife and mother of two small girls. She has a penchant for coffee and rarely turns down cookies. She is the authority on nothing and may just be the most outgoing shy person you will ever meet. Her family is convinced she is a super hero but most days she feels more like the bumbling sidekick. Her writing can be seen on UrbanMommies, Mamalode, BLUNTmoms, in the HerStories anthology, Mother Through The Darkness, and on her blog at www.JuiceboxConfession.com All love letters can be sent to JuiceboxConfession@gmail.com