“I sure love your daddy,” I said to my daughter once as we were walking hand-in-hand though the grocery store parking lot. Sometimes I do that – say things I’ m thinking out loud. It often gets me in trouble, like when I’m judgmental or harsh or wish someone would move the freak over in the fast lane. But this particular day I was thinking about her father. My husband. The man I love more each passing day of our almost thirteen-year marriage.
“You love him more than anyone in the whole world?” she asked. “Like the entire earth?” Her little hand was clutching mine as she looked up and squinted through the sun. I’m wondering what she’s getting at, like if we lived on a smaller planet I’d just sorta hang out with him. Maybe buy him a soda or get him a ticket to Sea World.
“Do you love him more than me?” she asked.
The question hit my face like a slap as we walked into the grocery store. Right there by the pineapples. How do I answer such a question? How can I possibly explain such a love while picking out grapefruit? This was my first-born. My precious child. I was the center of her little world.
“Well it’s just different,” I said. I was really hoping she’d just let this go so I could head to the cheese section in peace. But she was so fixated on my response that she flat-out ignored the free samples. This was serious. I could have just said I loved them both exactly the same – children like for things to be fair and equal and perfectly symmetrical. Half the pie. We each get a balloon. Three candies each. But I couldn’t lie. Not to my own child.
My daughter and I gush a lot. It makes my husband roll his eyes and leave the room, mostly because it’s (1) annoying; (2) loud; and (3) insanely repetitive.
“I love you a million times,” I’d say to her. Of course she loved me too. Except a million zillion times, plus infinity.
“I love you that much, plus one,” I’d say.
I do love her so. I have an immense longing to protect my children at all costs and surround their world with freedom and creativity. And they love me, to the extent they know how. It’s so innocent. Full of happy bubbles and sparkles. It’s so squeaky and pure I wish I could bathe in it. But my daughter has so much yet to learn.
I met my husband our last year in college. He was a fraternity boy with political ambitions. He wore beat-up, red wing boots, pulling his hat low on his head to cover up his red, tired eyes. I was drawn to him in a strange way that ignored all consequences. His crooked smile kept flashing through my mind all the moments of my days, and the world was somehow off balance without him in it. That was how things always were with us. From the very first moment we spoke, it was like that big wheel in Lost where all time and space shifted. We didn’t really have a choice. We were all but helpless participants in God’s master plan to yoke us together, one pushing and one pulling in all the right moments. I melted when he touched me. I would have followed him anywhere, to the very ends of the earth. No matter what the size.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my children with an emotion I didn’t know existed until their faces were raised to meet my eyes. My throat closed up when I saw their bodies like tiny angels and thought I wasn’t worthy to own such beautiful things, even for such a little while. Sometimes I stop folding laundry or scraping old oatmeal off cereal bowls and just look at them, my sweet precious little children, basking in the glow of the everyday. They are the big miracles of life.
But someday, they will go. They will take the extra china and good thread count sheets and beg me to make them cookies, but they will still leave. Some other mother, who rocked and held and loved their child as fiercely as I have loved, will send their offspring out into the world and the two will meet. And I will be but a memory of past days. The woman of remember when and you just won’t believe. Then, it will just be us, my husband and I, rocking away on the quiet front porch, alone. Or sitting in some café in France, drinking wine with grins on our faces.
I suppose when my daughter is older, after she struts headstrong into her own separate world, she might understand. After she survives her own youthful heartbreak and finds a partner who feeds her soul. Maybe then, she will know the answer, standing in the produce section, with refrigerated air blowing into her face and melon in hand, how to answer a question from her child about the intricacies of love.