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.