Friday, January 17, 2020

A Language of Love

Do you know your love language?

Mine is words of affirmation. Kind, loving words go very far with me, and hurtful words sting more than almost anything else can.

Presents are okay, and I enjoy a good hug, but tell me I'm doing a good job, I'm capable, or I offer something of value to the world, and I will put my chin up and persevere even in the toughest of circumstances. I will stand tall for you or for whoever else needs it.

I've been going through a lot, feeling over-tired and overdrawn. Uncreative, unhealthy, and unproductive in the world. I find myself wondering if I'll ever settle into a groove for 2019, but then I discover it's 2020, so the answer is likely no. Sleep eludes me with a mashup of menopause, preschool parenting, and middle of the night worries about how my daughter is adjusting to college.

I wonder why I never bothered to set any goals, personally or professionally, and just coasted until somehow waking up at 50 feeling like life has been a series of reactions versus actions. I ponder if I only have 30 or 20 or 2 years left, whether I'll be satisfied that most days all I looked forward to was a big bowl of popcorn and a Netflix binge. Is this my offering to the world, during this one life? Morning comes too soon or not soon enough.

Andrew is in a stage where he wants all of me, all the time.

At my age, I never would have imagined being needed in this intense way again, and the adjustment has been steep. He is adamantly opposed to all things Tim right now, through no fault of Tim's. He is just taking the whole Oedipus thing about as far as a 3 year old possibly can. The other night he told me he hoped there were two heavens, so he and I could go to one, and Daddy could go to the other. Harsh. It seems this little guy wants to go to great lengths to let me know I'm his number one. I tell him he can love both Daddy and me. That there is enough love to go around. There's enough of all of us to go around.

Although it doesn't always feel like that way, because we are spent.

As winter darkness sets in early, making it feel much later, it's easy to just gather up some of the parenting pieces that have been Tim's terrain, such as the final tuck-in, or reading the last book, if it means a happy boy not getting all worked up right at bedtime. After all, we know this is a phase to ride out; we've been down these roads before. Just as Tim didn't have to sleep on the floor next to Margaret's bed forever like he did when she was two, this too shall pass. In fact, I know that was time well spent, because even at age 18, home from college, she'll still sometimes climb onto his lap. He's a stiff person, and she's a prickly one, but they still connect in this way.

So instead of Tim doing the tuck-in, I started doing it. Then we moved to having me sit in the big blue recliner after tuck-in just so he'd know I was near. Then it morphed into extended snuggle-time in bed. It helps him fall asleep more quickly, and it yields sweet conversation. But, oh, how I resisted because I knew he'd be back in our bed again in just a few hours, and wasn't this a lot of rigamarole to go through for just about 4 hours of separation? With the clock ticking on my precious hours of alone time?

I decided to try to reframe this when I saw a friend with four kids had put a small sticker on her car that read, "I get to do this." She uses it to remind herself that the hours upon hours in the car being present with her kids is special time-- away from screens and homework. A lot of good connecting happens then, even though it's not easy.

This connecting time been good for Andrew and me too, because it is a sinking into togetherness, rather than my pulling away, hiding in the bathroom with my phone and a piece of chocolate while he clambers to find me.

He feels it and I feel it.

But back to love languages. Tim has rarely been one to lift me up through words. Remember during premarital counseling when we wrote down our needs and I wrote, "I want to be told I'm pretty sometimes"? Even more than 25 years ago, I knew we had a disconnect on this issue. His view was that if we were getting married, I could assume he thought I was kind of neat, so what was the big deal? Even in the eyes of young love, which is blind to so many mismatches, I wanted to articulate a need, which went well beyond my looks and was more about affirming me as a person worthy of notice.

Over the years there have been a few stilted, "You. look. very. nice. in. that dress"  or "good job" comments, but not many. Yes, I knew I could have married someone who grabbed my butt and said, "Hey, Hot Mama!" but that's not the guy I fell in love with. I knew it going in. But to hit 50, with a butt that is far less grab-able or remarkable than ever before, and cosmic questions about your place in the world, it's possible to yearn to know that you take up space and are seen. Perhaps because I am a writer and a speaker, words help do that for me.

Margaret has long been more likely to speak to me with criticism than love or affection, even though I know she loves me. My role as a safe spot to land since Jack's death has meant my putting on protective layers so the harsh stuff can slide off.

Stiff and Prickly, remember?

Jack was the one who would tilt his head to the side say with a wry smile, "Aww... I love you!" It was usually after I'd said something clever, or vulnerable or goofy, and it made me feel close to him. Like he got a kick out of me, and as if there was a whole lot of LIKE wrapped in with the LOVE.

I've missed those words that poured out unbidden. Unstrained. Not trying to check a box on Anna's wants and needs list. I know Jack still loves me as I do him. Our love never had a chance to get to the stage where perhaps it would have been uncool to tell your mom how much you loved her. I know if I quiet myself, I can still hear him whisper "I love you" into my soul. I can see his love in the two bluejays at my feeder right now, and in the sweet but hazy memories that come to me in flashes, every single day.

But what does any of this have to do with Andrew, and sleep, and snuggling? Once I began to reframe this new nighttime routine, realizing that it is a sweet and temporary privilege, I've been able to not only sink into his twin bed giving him something he craves, but also sink into the love he gives me freely. "I love you SO SO much!" he beams, touching my face. "Oh, I just LOVE you!" "I love you and want to keep you forever!" These words affirm and fill me up after a long day at a challenging time of life.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think our kids are here to meet our needs. Nope. That is far too much to put on a child. It isn't healthy and it isn't fair.

But I do think that God knows that my soul has been parched for affirmation. That my world has grown smaller the past few years as career and accomplishments and even maintaining friendships have been overshadowed by the ever-present need of caring for a small child again.

He surely knows that the middle of the night doubts about what I've offered the world, and whether I'll have the stamina to do what's before me, can somehow be soothed by having a child, this child, who tells me, again and again, that I am beloved.

And I'm grateful.

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

That was absolutely beautiful. And I mean it. Though you're far too hard on yourself. "Setting goals" and "getting productive" are ideas created by a perverse "self help" culture and they're DESIGNED to make you feel inadequate. (To be clear, I'm not saying goals are inherently bad.) You are enough, in fact more than enough, exactly as you are. (And I've always thought you were very pretty. Not just saying so.) . My huge wish for you is to be at ease (I wish it for myself too). I see your life as rich with connection, community, love and honesty. Plus you have talent and literary success. I'm VERY VERY familiar with chronic feelings of inadequacy so I sympathize. Your honesty helps me. I'll probably never meet you, but you and Jack have made a lasting impression -- in a very positive way -- on my heart. I know the same could be said for thousands of others. So be at ease. Watch Netflix excessively. Eat popcorn. HIde in the bathroom occasionally. Don't judge yourself. Your very being is, as Thomas Merton said, "walking around shining like the sun."

Sharon in Seattle said...

Such a beautiful post! You are a gifted writer.

Bren said...

Oh Anna, this is so beautiful. Over and over I read your words and wondered how to reply that as you wonder what your mark is on this world, I see it so clearly. What you share has made an impression in my world and though you do not know me and we will more than likely never meet, you have changed my world with your words. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I love what you shared in this post. My life is in a bit of a different spot and I am a few years older but I you so articulately expressed many of the thoughts I have had lately.

Mis Stubenhofer said...

Spent my snow day reading, watching tv and playing Wordscapes. No goals set for 2020 yet, but with 56 looming in three weeks I’m giving myself some extra time. My 34-year-old son is grown and living his own life that is beautiful and makes me happy, but I know that I am not the first person he thinks of every morning when he wakes up the way he did at 3 or 10 or 13 and I miss the “Love you mores” that he used to fling my way. My late in life baby is 15 and working hard to be her own person, separate from her mom. And yet, just when I plan some free time, she needs me to be her mommy. So I give what she needs and remember that these days will be over in a blink. And I forgive myself for sometimes wishing I was the dad. And wishing she had been born when I was 30 instead of 40. And I take a nap!

Jane said...

For what it is worth, from the friend of a friend, your blog is one I look forward to for its honesty and humor. My love language is acts of service, and my husband can't wrap his mind around that, no matter how many times I tell him. A good friend once told me that we have to teach people how to love us, and I try to do that (without being a heinous witch about it). Thank you for sharing yourself with so many people, Anna. I think you are smart, funny, stunning, loving, and brave. XO.

Dee said...

Oh, Anna, you write so beautifully from your heart. Your words resonate with me and, I’m sure, with hundreds of other moms. I think you are amazing in so many ways.�� Snuggle in with Andrew and soak up his sweet love and hugs.

Susan said...

Wonderful post. Well said!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful. You always bring a tear to my eye with how eloquently you express life.
And sorry for not affirming you through this blog - I read most of your posts and always come away reflecting and pondering on your words of wisdom xx

Leeann said...

Thank you for this post. It touched me in many ways. I too had a youngest who would have been quite happy if his father disappeared off the face of the planet! This went on well through the preschool years. Looking back (he just turned 18) it is a sweet memory and honestly, one that sustained me as he went through a fairly rough adolescence from 13-17. I had those memories to remind me that he loves me fiercely even as he pushed me away.

Also, your comments about your relationship with Tim gave me some insight into my own marriage. I tend to be the prickly one and can be a little standoffish with my husband. I love him dearly but I just don't need as much. You remind me that even if I don't, he does and I need to pay attention to that.

Thanks so much. I've enjoyed your blog for many years!

Momof3boys said...

Beautifully written! You GIVE to this community in each post, share, etc. Anna, thank you for your honesty. You make this world a better place by being YOU. xo

Gwen said...

Oh, Beautiful Anna, both inside and out, do you have any idea the people you touch with your words? I’m sitting at my computer early in the morning after another restless night struggling with grief that is at times overwhelming and then I read your new blog post and your words, your words that are so lovely and vulnerable and bring tears to my eyes. Andrew holding your face in his hands. Thank you again for sharing your gift.

Sarah said...

This is beautifully written. I can feel the pain but also the acceptance and love you have for your husband and daughter. The admitting that your love language isn’t really being met but that you love them anyway. I like this kind of honesty.

Lisa Ancona-Roach said...

Oh, I so empathize with you, Anna. I'm in the same life stage (sans toddler) with the same love language (plus acts of service, which--don't even get me started there). And I'm reading your wondering about what you've offered the world and thinking, "Does she know how much her words have meant to grieving families--and to so many others??" You've made a huge impact, Anna. (I say this as a work-in-progress writer who envies what you've accomplished and feels my own inadequacies for not accomplishing myself.) Your honesty, humor, thoughtfulness, and so much more make you an amazing human, my dear. I'm so glad you are sinking into the snuggles with Andrew and still hearing the whispers of Jack. Heck, I'd grab your butt if I could...well, you know what I mean.

Jan said...

I loved this

Sue said...

What a beautiful post. I'm almost 65 and I still wander around wondering why I never set goals. I did, however, have four lovely children and worked in political arenas to create change and read lots of books. That's enough. And you're more than enough. You are special to so many of us. Thank you for sharing so much with us.

Sue said...

What a beautiful post. I'm almost 65 and I still wander around wondering why I never set goals. I did, however, have four lovely children and worked in political arenas to create change and read lots of books. That's enough. And you're more than enough. You are special to so many of us. Thank you for sharing so much with us.

Jess said...

This is amazing. So beautiful.

Unknown said...

Beautiful. It brought tears to my eyes.

Heidi Cave said...

This made me cry and smile. I’m with you - I respond to words and affirmations. Beautiful, heartfelt post.

Julie A. said...

I LOVED this post!!!! thank you for sharing your thoughts so well.

Julie A. said...

I LOVED this post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

green said...

You are so stylish and pretty and kind. You have accomplished, are accomplishing, so much as you speak openly and honestly and touch the hearts of so many of us that need it. Thank you. For all you do and write. ❤️❤️❤️❤️

Anonymous said...

It dawned on me after reading so many comments about how we want to be shown love in certain ways that it's important to recognize that other people show love in their own ways and we should appreciate their "love showing" (for lack of a better phrase) for what it is, not what we wish it exactly was. Just something to think about -- instead of wishing something were what you want it to be, appreciate that it's there in its own way.

Kate said...

Anna, I read this post the other day and didn't have time to comment, but it has resonated with me over and over in the past week. "I get to do this." How often I forget and how often I feel like they're keeping me from doing something important. Thank you for the reminder to soak up and fully appreciate this time with them.
Like so many comments above, I want to echo how much you have positively affected others. I feel like I have a deeper understanding of grief and loss from reading your blog and the articles and links you share on your FB page. I know I am one of so many who have benefited from the myriad of ways you have shared your life and gifts with us. Thank you for your writing, your honesty and the heartfelt way you share with us. May God bless you and your family.

ChristinaS said...

you are such a wonderful person Anna! Even though I just know you by your words and the pictures on this blog - I think I would LOVE to spent time with you in real life! (just an ocean between us;-)). and by the way: My love language is food! And my husband can cook. God is good to me!

Anonymous said...

Oh, Anna, you are such a beautiful soul. I'm so often either laughing or crying with your writing. Thank you. Sending love.

TheresaBowden said...

That was amazing! So clearly written, so understandable, so relatable. I respect and admire you very much. I’ve read your blog for years, but never commented. You really touched my heart with this post and I wanted you to know. Well done! I think we would be great friends if we lived close by. Sending you love, peace and gratitude for your beautiful words.❤️

TheresaBowden said...

That was amazing! So clearly written, so understandable, so relatable. I respect and admire you very much. I’ve read your blog for years, but never commented. You really touched my heart with this post and I wanted you to know. Well done! I think we would be great friends if we lived close by. Sending you love, peace and gratitude for your beautiful words.❤️

Unknown said...

Beautiful !

Unknown said...

I am totally inspired by you Anna...much love
Very very impactful