Family / Parenting

Unconditional Love

sudsyheartValentine’s Day: another over commercialized holiday, but then, what holiday isn’t over commercialized in the 21st century West? We’ve just gotta exercise some self-restraint, people; look over the aisles and aisles of products, plug the ears to the commercials, and notice that person bending with tenderness toward that other person, giving freely of that ineffable something that helps define us as humans.

I’ve always been a fan of Saint Valentine’s Day, not because I’ve celebrated it in its ol’ school, liturgical fashion in a church, but because I just plain love an excuse to celebrate love. Also, I like the fact that the original St. Valentine was said to have been imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry, and for ministering to Christians persecuted under the Roman Empire. Marrying those forbidden to marry? Ministering to the downtrodden? How much more ideal a queer martyr can you get, people?

But I don’t see it as a celebration of romantic love, though I know that’s what takes center stage in the market square version of the holiday, and, truth be told, it’s been the stripe of love associated with the day since Chaucer’s time. Watching the excitement in my kids helps seal that for me. My daughter, a night-owl/ insomniac who just last night was still awake at 10:30pm, sprung awake this morning before 7:00am with breathtaking zeal.  Why? Valentine’s Day at school, duh!

I myself was far more sluggish, after the cupcake bake-a-thon I was up to for the two kids’ classrooms. Love expresses itself in many ways, including, as Vikki noted here, late night baked goods.

There are so many dimensions of the love I’ve experienced for my kids, and which I experience them unrestrainedly ladling on me, but I think the thing that’s most arresting is how truly unconditional it feels. Hundreds of couples counseling hours later, and thousands of couples counseling dollars later, my beloved and I are still disentangling our expectations that we, as peers, should give each other the unconditional love we felt (or felt our due) from our parents as children. But try as we might, we meet each other as equals, and actually must have some conditions on our love.

Not so with the kids. Sure, they can drive me bananas when they double-team me during the labor-intensive dinner-bath-bedtime swing shift, when I’m solo parent (Mama away at work many, many a swing shift).  Thanks to menopause (blame it on menopause!), I curse my way through the hard times, so much so that once, when I apologized (“Sorry kids, I’m cursing like a sailor”) my daughter quipped back, “Sailors curse that much?” But I am amazed at how absolute, how unbendable, and how surprising my love is for them. In their gradual, daily development, they keep showing me utterly unexpected facets to them, and each time the new facets just do the same old thing: uncover yet more capacity to love.

For instance, my daughter, on the bus this morning. It was a rare morning when her neighbor chum wasn’t at the bus stop, so when she got on the bus, she went to a window seat to watch me wave at her, and gently, oh-so-subtlely, wave back in a nonchalant eight-year-old fashion. I waved to her–carefully restraining myself from bobbing up and down on the balls of my feet, as I did once, much to her mortification–and she tiny-waved back with the tips of her fingers, though her eyes were fixed on me with a special openness which I can ID from twenty paces. And then as the bus passed me by, she (along with many of the kids on that side of the bus) continued to wave at the other parents, with absolutely no discernable irony. You get on the bus, the grown-ups eagerly, lovingly wave.  And you wave back. In some excruciatingly dear combination of royal noblesse oblige and the magnetic, undeniable draw of child to loving adult.

For instance, my son, this past Sunday. We had some time together, since his sister was off in the city on a major mission of her own.  “Do you want to go to the park and practice playing catch with the foam football I got you last week?” I said, eagerly. Nope. An errand to the dollar store to get yet another pad to draw on was the pinnacle of adventure for him. I managed to persuade him to wind the day up with a picnic somewhere, at least. But when we got into the car, bird dookie was on the sunroof. So we started off with a visit to the DIY car wash.  Did he want to hop out and help me wash the car, I wondered, doggedly continuing to honk that “ordinary boy” horn I am so concerned others might think I’m overlooking? Though the truth is: duh! I’m a mannish lesbian! I’m going to teach him to throw like a dyke, which is to say, fast and true enough to throw people out at second base from the catcher’s position, like I did.

Nope. No horseplay-filled car washing could tempt him. He is no ordinary boy, he is his kind of boy, just like his sister is her kind of girl, and the best I can do is to keep paying close attention and follow his lead. He preferred to stay in the car and listen to–wait for it–a Stephen Sondheim musical. Not a famous one; “Merrily We Roll Along.”  See, I knew you wouldn’t know it. But he does, and can sing along to a majority of the song lyrics. So I circumnavigated the car alone, scrubbing away, and delighting him with love notes and hearts on the sudsy windows. And with his full full heart, he drew his own hearts back to me from inside, thinking (of course) that somehow the message might stick on the suds from the inside.  Which, as it happens, it does. Unconditionally.

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  1. This morning I overheard my kids playing pretend. One said to a sad invented character in the form of a stuffed possum, “Are you lonely? That’s so sad! If you are REALLY lonely, you can come be in our family!”

    It’s so nice to see them passing the love along.

  2. Love this, thank you so much for continuing to write. You make me want to be better.

  3. SJ, thank you for continuing to read, and for the warm support. We all are here together (on the planet, on the internet, on this website) to help each other be better, is my secret idea.

    A little coda to the story about my daughter, above. This afternoon I was asking her why it was that she usually sits on the far side of the bus, where I can’t see her. I had thought it was because she was too involved with her neighbor chum. Not so.

    “We sit on the other side of the bus because there are usually no seats with two seats together on the ‘waving’ side.”

    “The waving side? You mean the side where all the parents are on the sidewalk, waving to the kids?” I ask.

    “Yes,” she says, matter-of-factly. “Everyone always wants to sit on the waving side.”

  4. I’m a butch, and mom to three girls. My middle, twelve years, is high femme. Seriously.

    I announced my intention to coach a ‘Girls on the Run’ running group at her school. I was not surprised when she said, “Fine…but I’m so not running with your team.” But later last night she crawled in, snuggled up, and said, “Mapa…I’m so proud you’re going to coach the team. And I want to be on yours. But please, I’m begging you, from the bottom of my heart. Please…please…PLEASE will you shave our legs when you wear shorts?”

    And at the end of the day I’ve agreed to shave my legs, for this one period of time and for the 5k we’ll run together at the end. She knows I’ll feel like a wanker, having shaved. I know she’d feel like a wanker if I didn’t shave. And I am NOT going to grow my buzz cut out. Ah…the negotiations…

    Things are so much easier with my jock three-year-old who just wants to go to hockey games and get her stick and face mask… 🙂

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