When they are babies it is easy.
You rock them; you cradle them. You hold them; you kiss them. You do it out of pure love.
You do what a mama is designed to do.
You feed them and burp them and keep them alive and breathing. You check on them and worry over them and fuss over them.
Is she eating enough? Is she sleeping enough? Why isn’t she sleeping? Why is she sleeping so much?
Is she happy? Is she suffering?
We wonder and worry and love, love, love.
But they don’t give much in those early days. Just their gentle sighs and their smiles in their sleep.
They don’t say, “I love you.” They don’t reach out to hold you and hug you.
But you keep giving.
You do it because you love them. You do it out of love.
They don’t talk and give back in the way that one normally gets back love, but you love them nonetheless.
But as they get older this changes.
Your little baby is no longer a baby, she’s a toddler.
And then that little toddler is gone and in its place is a little fresh preschooler.
And with each change you learn to love again. You learn to love in a different way.
Just last week my little girl was wrapping her arms around my neck as hard as she could. She’d whisper in my ear, “I love you soooooooo much….” And I’d say it back. “I love you soooooo much…” and then I’d wrap myself up into the warmth beside her and drink up that love.
But she doesn’t do this today. She no longer wraps her arms around my neck and says “I love you sooooo much” like she did just yesterday.
In one week that has changed.
Today, I whisper to her, “Who loves you more than anybody in the whole wide world?”
“Mama,” she says, without missing a beat.
“And who do you love more than anything in the whole wide world?” I ask. “Dada,” she says.
My heart skips a beat. What do I say?
And just for a moment, out of my own need, I test the waters.
“You don’t love mommy?”
Of course she does. She loves us both, she says.
Her idea and expressions of love are changing and with that I must change to.
She’s speaking now, thinking, loving with her mind, not just her heart.
Love is no longer an unadulterated instinct that wells up from within her and springs forward out into my arms. It’s a thought and a decision and a test.
The irony is that where she needed me more in the past, I am growing to love her more with every day that passes.
And with every day that my love grows deeper and stronger, she is moving a little bit away from that precious, sweet love made strong by the mommy umbilical cord.
So I need to learn to love all over again. I need to learn to love the way that she needs it and want to.
With each passing day, I need to learn to love again.
Learn to love again.