Saturday February 23, 2013

Feb. 14. The one day of year where everyone stops and participates in a nation wide love fest. Chocolates, flowers, jewelry and cards fly off the shelves at breakneck speeds. Couples eat dinner at spendy restaurants and gaze at each other over candle light. Proposals are made and accepted. Valentines Day is undoubtedly the most love filled day of the year.

Unless, you are a 2-year-old.

If you happen to be a toddler you are in luck. Everyday is a love fest. You need all 365 days to express your unending love of ... well ... everything.

Toddlers love big and they love deeply. Ask any parent who has mistakenly lost/forgotten/washed their toddler’s security object and they will agree: Big love. But it is not just their lovies that get their undying affection. Mommy, Daddy, cats, dogs, rocks, bugs, cookies, baths, trucks, doors, stairs, stickers and Gramma all are loved gigantically by tots.

A regularly heard phrase around our house is "OH I wuuuuv it!!!" Our daughter, like most toddlers, doesn’t discriminate. The friend that stole her toy and reduced her to tears five minutes ago? She loves him. The dog who ate her only cookie when she turned her head for a millisecond? Love. Big, big LOVE. Even things that she declares "yucky" or gets the second most heard phrase ("I don’t wike dat") will be loved again. With emotions as consistent as the weather in New England, a toddler’s feelings will swing the other way and love will come again and it will be big.

They share their love without fear of rejection or embarrassment. Just today, I saw a 2-year-old little boy snuggle his friend’s father. Why? Because he felt like it. Because the dad is a cool guy and the little boy loves him. Because he played with the little boy for over an hour. No need for complicated logic or social expectations. Just simple, big love.

These little people do not see race or religion. They couldn’t care less who you are romantically linked to or who you voted for. Big or little, rich or poor, doesn’t make a speck of difference. If you are good to them and show them kindness, they will return your investment tenfold. They will love you bigger than you have ever been loved before.

Being the parent of a toddler is a test of patience if nothing else. Little ears and minds are trying to take in 5 million things and my voice is not always one of them. Ultimately frustrations rise and I can get frazzled. Sometimes I need to sit down and take a moment to regroup. Most often during these "mommy time outs" our daughter will come over, throw her little arms around my neck and cover my face with tiny kisses. "I sawee, Momma. I wuv you." And just like that, all is better.

Maybe we, as adults, could learn from them. We spend so much time stressing out over how to best raise them; Making sure they become well adjusted, good grown ups. Maybe, if we stopped and watched them, we could learn a thing or two about how to be better people.

These tiny folks are born as blank slates. They are born without prejudice or preconceived notions. They function on instinct. They create their own opinions based on experience not history or societal pressure. Prejudices are a learned and, like a bad habit, they take time to form and are hard to shake.

Maybe instead of teaching our children how to judge we could learn from them how to love. Slowly break our own bad habits of judging and hate. To base our opinions on individual interactions and actions. To be kind to people so they will in turn, be kind to us. To love without fear of judgement.

Inevitably we will slip up. We will have ears or eyes or hearts that forget to listen. We will judge, we will get angry. We will slip back into that old bad habit. However, when we do, we can learn from our children once again. We can wear our hearts on our sleeves. We can express our emotions, forgive ourselves for the slip and apologize to those we hurt.

Valentine’s Day is undoubtedly the most love filled day of the year for adults. But for those tiny, giggling children running around your legs with cookie crumbs on their shirts and blueberry stained fingertips, everyday is Valentine’s Day. And every moment is a new chance to love big.

Michelle Stephens is a wife, mom to a toddler, photographer, writer, the most outgoing shy person you will ever meet and a super hero in her head. She blogs at www.JuiceboxConfession.com. Email her at JuiceboxConfession@gmail.com.