“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 the edge of my own tiny chair on a mission to find out how these 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.
When I asked my daughters something similar — “What do you do when you love someone?" — it stopped them in their tracks. Suddenly Edie, who is 5, was shy, adjusting her smile into a flat line and looking up at the ceiling to grab her answer.
“Well,” replied Edie. “You hug them and you kiss them and you play with them.”
Rosie piped up then. “Ew, Daddy said kisses are gross. You don’t kiss anyone!”
“Except on the cheek maybe,” Edie said. “Daddy likes kisses just on the cheek.”
And with that they turned around and got back to changing diapers and taking their babies for a loud, screeching ride on stick horses on their way to a picnic lunch, which will inevitably turn into an argument about which one gets the purple horse or the bald baby or the one Rosie named “Kunk.”
Ah, sisterly love. That’s what that looks like.
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From the mouths of children I’m reminded how uncomplicated and totally tangible love can be. If you love someone, you play with them; you include them; you cook them food.
When Edie was 2, she used to do this thing where she hugged us tight, squeezed her eyes closed and declared, “I love you too!” It was so cute because it wasn’t prompted. Like, we didn’t have to tell her, she knew it and she’s so happy about it. It made me melt.
Now I remember a few times 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, you know, kid humor… anyway…
So much has been said about romantic love, but parental love, sisterly love, family love? That’s something every one of us shares, no matter how complicated and sometimes unrecognizable it becomes.
I have this vivid memory of being about 5 or 6, dancing in the living room with my two sisters, putting on an impromptu performance for our parents. All three of us 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 overwhelming welling up and spilling out…
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. 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 one of my scheduled trips, 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 I’m seeing now, firsthand, how love from a child grows as well… from late night nursing sessions, to “I Love You Too” hugs, to a wave from the dance stage, to a call to check in on hosting a family meal.
Because as little Dominic so profoundly declared, food is love . And love is everything, even disgusting kisses.
Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at https://veederranch.com. Readers can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.