So I wasn’t going to do a Valentine’s Day post. Partly because I’m busy. And partly because I could really give a fuck. And partly because I’m a contrary person by my very nature.
But some things have happened today that have made me think about the nature of love. And that is something I’m interested in.
And if by odd coincidence this post happens to be timely…. Well, I suppose I can stand being timely once in my life.
* * *
Weeks ago, I was reading a book with Oot. At some point in the story, the characters go to the Doctor, and the doctor shows them what’s inside their bodies.
Oot’s curious about that stuff. It’s a cool teachable moment, so we take a break from the story to talk about our guts.
I point, “That’s a stomach. Do you know what that’s for?”
He knows. He tells me.
I point again, “Those are your lungs. Do you know what they do?”
Next I point at a picture of the circulatory system, “That’s a heart. Do know what that is for?”
He thinks about it for a long moment, then he lights up. “That’s where you keep all of your Love!”
* * *
Days ago I fell asleep with Oot on my lap.
Lately I’ve been keeping odd hours. I’m trying to get a lot of writing done and that means I don’t sleep as much as usual.
It also means I don’t spend as much time at home as I’d like. I write at the work house where there’s less distraction. Everyone working there knows if they bother me while I’m writing, I’ll fire them.
When I’m behind on writing, like I am now, it’s not uncommon for me to sleep at the workhouse too. I have a mattress there, I get food delivered. It’s not odd for me to spend several days there without leaving when I’m in the thick of it.
Still, I make a point of spending at least an hour or two every day with Oot. Sometimes Sarah brings him to visit me, sometimes I come home and visit him.
So a couple of days ago, I was sitting in the living room with Oot cuddled up in my lap. He’s not a particularly cuddly child, so these times are rare.
That said, I’ve stacked the deck a bit by offering to give him a massage. He loves having his back rubbed.
This is a sort of love, you realize. The negotiation of desires.
Oot desires the animal joy of having his back rubbed. I desire the animal joy of holding my warm child. These are not mutually exclusive. We can both get what we want here.
Would I prefer it if he would *just* cuddle me? Sure. That would be lovely. But we’re not living in a perfect world. He is a little boy, not a dog. He hasn’t been bred for 10,000 years to be a obsequious lap-sitter. So compromise is key. You have to give a little to get a little.
Our little arrangement reminds me of several of my college relationships. And some of my non-relationships too. Backrubs as currency. This is a skill I posses, and I have bartered it in the past. Sometimes just for the pleasure of touching another human in an intimate way.
The importance of touch should not be ignored. It shouldn’t be played down or viewed as something low or base. They joy of touching and being touched it is a big part of being human.
And while it is certainly not all of love, it is a type of love. It is a facet in the fractured glass of affection.
But as I’ve said, I haven’t been sleeping much lately. So, sitting there with my child in my lap, I started to nod.
Eyes closed, I hear Sarah come into the room and say, “Daddy is falling asleep. Do you want to help me put him to bed?”
“Oh, of course!” he says. Then he stands up and takes my hand to lead me.
This is an act of love.
Halfway through the living room he takes both my hands, which is probably meant to be twice as helpful, but it’s not. It means I have to bend down and take shuffling little steps.
So take little shuffling steps and bend down. I do this even though it hurts my back.
This too is love.
* * *
Hours Ago, I woke up.
My plan for today was to hurry over to the work house to get some writing in, then come back for my officially scheduled date with Sarah.
Our date is scheduled from noon to 2:00. It’s the only time we could arrange a sitter. The date is going to be short because Sarah is planning on making heart cookies for everyone she loves. She and Oot are going to bake them, put people’s names on them, and hand deliver them on Valentine’s Day.
She’s been planning it for weeks. It’s it an expression of her love.
My thought is that we should reschedule our date. Pick a day she isn’t so busy. Pick a day when we could do something at night. At night, you see, the workhouse is empty. At night there are many uninhabited surfaces at the workhouse, and little chance of being overheard by our young child.
But Sarah wants a date on Valentine’s Day. It’s important to her. So noon.
I wake up at 7:30 AM, but when I go upstairs to check my e-mail, I hear Sarah calling. I head into her bedroom and she gives me the news. Oot got sick last night. Puking sick.
I look at him, he’s sleeping. Sweet as anything. Between him and the bed is a carefully placed towel.
“No cookies today?” I say.
Sarah shakes her head. “I didn’t sleep much last night. We’re going to stay in and have a quiet day.”
“That’s as it should be,” I say.
“We’re out of Pedialite,”
For those of you who don’t have kids, Pedialite is like Gatorade if your sport of choice is shitting and puking all over. It’s easy on your stomach, and has all sorts of important electrolytes you need if you’re losing a lot of fluid. Every parent should have several jugs of it on the pantry shelf.
But we’ve burned through our supply, so I get dressed and go brush snow off the car.
At the store I pick up some Campbell’s chicken and stars soup, because that’s what my mom fed me when I had an upset tummy as a kid. I pick up some string cheese, because Oot likes it. And I pick up some olives stuffed with garlic because if this is a flu bug, having some garlic in my system will help me fight it off.
Then I go get the Pedialite. One orange and one purple, so that he has a choice.
In the kid isle at the grocery store, I see that they don’t stock baby formula on the shelves anymore. Now they have little cards there. You have to take the card to the service desk to get the formula.
To me, this means people must have been stealing baby formula. And standing there at 8:00 in the morning, the fact that people have to steal formula for their babies just breaks my heart. That shows that something is fucked up in our society. Food for your babies should be a given, and if some people are having to steal it, it means that something has gone wrong in my little town. I’ll have to talk to some people and see what we can do about this.
This, you have to realize, is also love. Love is a small thing only if we force it to be small. It isn’t some commodity we hoard and dole out sparingly for family and friends.
No. When you see a broken car by the side of the road and stop to help the person. That’s love. When you watch the news and hear about kids being exposed to lead in playgrounds and frac mining fucking up the environment, the anger you feel actually comes from love. It means you care about people even though you don’t know them.
It’s a hard way to live your life. It means you’ll be feel helpless a lot, and you’ll be hurt a lot, and you’ll be angry at the state of things so constantly that it will rub you raw. But it’s the best way to be. It’s the only way civilization can function properly. It’s the only way we can make things better.
On my way out of the store I walk past the floral department. I ignored it on my way into the store because I was on a mission. But now I remember that it is Valentine’s Day. And while I could give a damn about flowers, Sarah likes them.
So I pick out some roses. And the very act of it makes me grit my teeth. Roses on Valentine’s Day. It’s such a cliche.
There’s a line, a half dozen men. This just reinforces the fact that I’m being a culture zombie and it raises my irritation exponentially. Plus this is thirty dollars that’s going to end up in the compost in two weeks. I could do a hundred more practical things with this money. Formula for kids. A hive of honeybees for Heifer International….
Then I see an old guy in line ahead of me. He’s gotta be 85 if he’s a day, and he looks like what I imagine when Garrison Keillor describes the old Norwegian bachelor farmers in lake Woebegone. He’s beautiful in his own way.
He’s got a dozen roses, and seeing him there warms my bitter old heart.
One of the guys in front of me (a guy in a red flannel, probably in his sixties) motions the older man ahead of him in the line. He says, “You go ahead, Ed. I’ve got plenty of time.”
The guy in the red flannel drops back and smiles at me. He says, “Ed there comes by here every week. Buys flowers for his wife.”
“That’s great,” I say, smiling like the idiot I am.
And it is great. This is someone who has made a habit out of love. There is something to be learned here.
So I pick up more roses. One of each color. Because this isn’t about me. For Sarah, love is a song. Love is words. Love is gifts.
That is not my way. For me, love is doing. Love is service. Love is caring for someone and tending to their well being.
This is a problem we have been struggling with for a long time: how the two of us show our love in different ways. It has led to many problems. Many fights. It is a terrible thing to be unloved. But in many ways it is worse to be loved and feel unloved.
Love is actually easy. We are all of us wired for it. We are full of love, even though sometimes we are barely aware of it.
Showing love is the hard part. Our culture poisons us constantly, telling us what we *should* love. Religions spout off about who we *can* love. Media lies to us, telling us *how* to love. For when you care enough to send the very best. Say it with flowers. Every kiss begins with Kay.
It’s hard to break away from that cultural conditioning. But it’s even harder for me to realize that sometimes, Sarah doesn’t want me to take care of her. She doesn’t need tending. Sometimes she just wants me to say that I love her and tell her she’s pretty.
So I bring home roses and soup. I scrap my plans to hole up and write today so I can be near my family and tend to them. Because that is what’s important to me. Whether or not they realize it, this is how I love.
Oot picks the purple Pedialite. He’s listless and just wants to stay in bed. He’s snuggled up with Sarah. She gets more cuddling than me, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous.
But when I lay down he snuggles me too. No bribery needed.
When Sarah comes downstairs she sees the flowers and laughs and smiles. It’s a response that I would never have to flowers. We talk a little. I tell her I love her. I tell her she’s pretty.
Later, if Oot is feeling up to it, I will read him a chapter of the Hobbit. It’s the one where the goblins catch them in the mountains.
And through all of this, in bits and pieces, I write down these musings for you. Because I cannot help but tell stories. Because these things are important to me.