The Things They Teach Me — by Laura Houston
I became a mother because I wanted to see what would happen when I let someone so young teach me all of the really important things in life – all that I needed to be happy – how to slow down and mind the details. The boys just hit their two-year mark, and the lessons keep coming. In waves. In exhausting, cranky, snappish waves with love on the crests and ingratitude on the troughs.
And so it goes. I am learning a lot. Yes. There are those little things such as how to function on no sleep, how to get a toddler to eat…all of those quotidian motherhood moments that somehow become laughable in memoirs with excerpts read on NPR during drive time.
But what I have learned to be most valuable is to recognize the many faces of love. My sons love me in completely different ways, and I have to pay attention, not judge, and slow down in order to get it. Because it’s all so different and complex until a child comes along and teaches you how to see it.
Lyle, well, that kid is love in its purest state. He loves to love. He loves everyone. He thinks I am the greatest thing in the world. And then his father is the greatest thing in the world. Minutes later – his brother. After a fight, Lyle is there to offer hugs. He picks kids up off the playground and pats them on the back, declaring in his toddler accent that his is sorry. So very sorry. Then more hugs.
When my entire family was down with the stomach flu and lying on the living room floor wrapped in towels and sheets, Lyle went around to each one of us and rubbed our heads. He’ll do anything for a snuggle. He calls for me when he wakes up. He calls for me when he goes to sleep. He loves a lap more than a cookie.
Wyatt doesn’t love me like that. If I were not paying attention, I would think Wyatt didn’t love me much at all. But Wyatt has a different way of showing love. He watches me reading books, and he knows I love books, so he brings them to me. Lots of them. Scatters them at my feet. Makes a big mess of books. I used to think this was a simple lack of focus on his part, but in a game to alleviate my frustration at having to clean up another toddler mess, I started opening all of the books with an exclamation of delight before stacking them neatly next to me. He’d run get more. He was so happy to see me happy. He buried me in books.
Wyatt is not a hugger or a kisser. He comes to me for comfort, but he doesn’t seem to offer much up in return. That is…if I am not paying attention. The other day I was reading a book that had a wonderfully sad part, and I started crying. He came up to me with his fire engine and brought it down on my foot. Hard. I wasn’t happy about it, and I set my book down to explain to him that you don’t throw toys on people. But he had already picked it up again and was shoving on my lap, banging my knee in the process. Then he took my book from me, ran to the baby gate, threw it over the baby gate, and ran back to me where he petted the fire truck.
He was taking away what he believed caused me pain and gave me his favorite toy to make it all better.
How many times have I misinterpreted his actions? I wonder. Because he makes messes and he steals things and he aggravates me with his weird ways. It recently occurred to me I have not been paying attention. I have not been awake to all of those small, delightful, often hidden miracles that little ones teach us. Perhaps I have been missing out on a child’s version of love that doesn’t appear in every child specialist’s handbook. I didn’t recognize it. And it went right on by.
So Wyatt and his different way of loving got me thinking about all of the other people who have loved me in my life, and I failed to see it. And how many people I know who are getting all kinds of love from all directions and they just can’t see it because they are expecting Lyle’s version of love instead of Wyatt’s. And I think to myself, maybe we all just need to slow down and listen a little more. Listen to what love is trying to tell us. Because there is so damn much of it out there. And there’s no point in feeling lonely and sad and alienated because we didn’t see what we expected or what we wanted, but at that very moment we were getting what we needed.