Tuesday, September 27, 2011

you and me together, fighting for our love

One of the first things my son said to me when he got back from his weekend trip to the mountains was that he did not like me.

He wasn't upset when he said it - there was no flailing of limbs, no vale of tears. He just sat there in his car seat and calmly, reasonably informed me of the fact. Granted, I had just removed him, without his consent, from the small mountain of toys and new step-bro he has at his mother's house... but still.

Changing lanes here, I have to confess that I have been watching a vulgar, rather filthy TV show on Hulu. It's called Louie. It is "intended only for mature audiences," so before watching, I have to type in a password and confirm that I know I'm a dirty pig. I do it anyway.

I do it because (in addition to the fact that it's flippin' hilarious) in the very first episode I watched, Louie CK (creator, producer, writer and titular character) is talking with his six-year-old daughter, and she informs him that she loves mommy more than him, because the food is better at her house. Now, I am a passable cook, so I don't worry too much about losing my son's affections to a more appealing meal plan. But the principal of the thing is the same, and Louie's oddly-paced, critically-acclaimed comedy struck an authentic note - as did his response to his daughter, which was to wait until she turned away and then tell her he loved her while flipping the birdie at her retreating back.

I did not flip my son off. Instead, I stifled the rush of emotions and told him the truth - that I loved him very much, even when he didn't love me back. And then I tightened my grip on the wheel and kept driving, proud as all get-out of my extreme display of righteousness in the face of adversity. It wasn't, though (righteousness, that is), because his comment was just one statement out of many.

I know that he was just doing as kids do. I know there have been times when he's been with his mother and has told her he'd prefer to be with me (usually, of course, when he's not getting exactly what he wants). And although there is always a little fresh pain when those sorts of comments are addressed to me, it is not so great that it can't be balmed by his subsequent, un-solicited assurances that he loves me.

It made me wonder, though, if I could be so calm and kind if I didn't know that kids are kids, or if I hadn't the regular assurances of his love to bolster me up. If I've said it twice, I've said it two times: I'm not a particularly fabulous guy. It seems that every time I become convinced of how awesome and loving I am, something else comes along to remind me that it is fear and insecurity - not grace and love - that tend to drive my actions.

It's tempting, in those moments, to spiral downward into despair and self-loathing. Sometimes, I do. Other times, though, I remember that grace and love come in tiny, moment-sized packages. I remember that a loving life is lived right now, not in some imaginary, impossible ideal uber-package.

So even if I'm scared, and even if it's tempting, at times, to see myself as being in some sort of love-competition, I do know that love doesn't work that way, and that making tiny choices against fear and insecurity erodes them, inexorably, to the nothing that they really are.

3 comments:

  1. I am not a parent, but I do believe that every parent will hear those words at one time or another. That doesn’t make it hurt any less.
    Logic tells me that love is not a pie chart. The part of me that gives love would back that up, because I know that my love is not an exhaustible commodity. Why then, when I receive love, does that knowledge go out the window? For instance, despite having a mature adult relationship with my best friend, I once firmly believed that she loved her pet bird more than me. Yes, that sounds silly, but it actually drove a painful wedge between us.
    I cannot compare that example with the love of a child, but I think there is a central question that comes up. Does the average person expect to be wanted? No. That answer says some scary things about our culture.
    It takes a strong person to believe they are loveable, especially if they do not receive constant affirmations of love. I believe we are designed to flourish mentally, physically, and spiritually in supportive, loving surroundings. However, since you are in the position of setting the example for such a dear impressionable mind, you did the right thing. You showed him that he is loveable and that you do NOT believe that is contingent upon anything outside of you. Perhaps this will one day help him to have less of a struggle to believe that he is a loveable adult.

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  2. Yeah, Olivia... people can be pretty inexplicable. Like, for example, there are some people out there who paint detailed portraits of animals posing as people. Nuts :) (I do like them, though)

    I am fortunate to have had a great number of people in my life who have loved me well and have taught me the possibilities of human love. I have also had other people who have loved me poorly (and sometimes its the same people) and have taught me the limitations of human love.

    The key, I think, might be gratitude. Gratitude is a great antidote for fear. But then we get into questions of willpower and community and nature vs. nurture, all of which make my mind bunch like a spring, coiled around insanity. The release valve for that, I think, is humor.

    I don't think things get fixed, but that with love, grace, gratitude, and laughter, they can transcend mere bearability.

    The truth of the matter, though, might just be that I like to hear the sound of keys as I type. It's pretty likely.

    I saw a cartoon once where this guy was looking at a plummeting "pastoral popularity chart" with a minister, and the guy says, "...then again, you might want to consider rethinking your strategy of ending each sermon with, 'but then again, what do I know.' "

    That could be me.

    But then again, what do I know.

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  3. You have got to love those anthropomorphizing weirdoes. What is even stranger are people who classify those they meet as types of animals . . . for instance, if they compared you to a kangaroo mouse, it would probably bother you for days. I agree. Nuts!

    I think you might have a point about gratitude, which often comes hand in hand with humility.
    It often astounds me how humans can create a self-fulfilling prophesy simply by believing in their perceptions (no matter how distorted or pure). Perspective feeds our actions, so that our beliefs become like goals we are working toward. Examining the probable results of my fears often helps me to at least try to adjust my belief in that fear.

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