When I was a child, I rated my affection for something based on one question: Did I love it more than I loved my mom? To me, love was a hierarchy, and Mom was firmly and forever at the top.
Sure, I loved macaroni and cheese, I loved mashed potatoes, I loved listening to the Bay City Rollers and wearing my ever so stylish elephant pants. But did I love those things more than Mom? Not even close.
I soon started applying the same question to people. I loved my sixth-grade teacher, but not more than Mom. I loved my BFF, but not more than Mom. I even thought I loved a boy or two, but certainly not more than Mom. (Their failing the test, I now see, was truly a blessing for me.)
Then came Jim. I soon learned a very important lesson: My love test was silly, my love test was naive. Love isn't a matter of degree, I realized, it's a matter of manner, and I loved Jim in a far different manner than I loved my mom. Not more, not less, just different.
Yes, I loved my mom, but I sure didn't want to spend the rest of my life with her. I did, though, want to spend the rest of my life with Jim. Fortunately he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me, too. So we married. And had kids.
When the first baby was born, there was the struggle of coming to terms with the fact—for Jim and for me—that the manner of baby love was such that it required more attention, more nurturing, more time than anything else in our world. It wasn't a matter of loving the baby more than Jim, though it took a while to convince him of that.
When the second baby was set to arrive, I had to convince myself that I wouldn't love my first more than the second. I had yet to learn how much the heart expands with each child. The lesson was confirmed when that second baby arrived. And again when the third baby arrived.
Again and again I've learned—and did my best to teach—that each and every one of those loves of my life were loved the very most I could possibly love, just all in a different manner. I've never loved one child more than another; they're loved in manners befitting them. Sure, there were—and continue to be—days when one drives me more batty than another, but that has nothing to do with love. I love them all fully, love them all completely. I just love my oldest daughter in a manner far different than the second, which is far different than the third. I like to think, and continue to hope, that the manner in which I love them is the manner in which they need, deserve, love in return.
If you're a mother, you get that.
When I learned I'd be a grandmother, though, I clearly didn't get it. Not fully. I wasn't sure I could love my grandchild as much as I loved my children. How, how, how could I, I wondered, when I loved my girls so fully and completely?
Again the matter of manners came into play. The manner in which I love my first grandson is so very different than the manner in which I love his mom...and his aunts. No one more, no one less, all of them different.
Which made it easier when my second grandson came along. I now fully and completely love him, too, yet in a manner so different from how I love his brother.
It's been more than thirty years since I first learned the lesson that love isn't a hierarchy or a matter of degrees, that it's a matter of manners. My love has grown to encompass so many in that time. I love my grandsons. I love my daughters. And I love my cats, my dogs, my house, my home. I do still love macaroni and cheese, too, and do still love potatoes. The Bay City Rollers? Well, not so much anymore.
Through all the additions, though, I still love my mom.
And I still truly and deeply love Jim.
And despite all that we've been through in our decades together, all the other manners—and the oft-heartbreaking matters—that have been thrown into the mix, I do still want to spend the rest of my life with him.
All of my manners of love matter, but today, that is the manner that matters the most.
Happy Valentines Day!
What love manners and matters are on your mind today?