You are joking.
We had been married sixteen years when we had our first baby. I was almost thirty-eight years old. By then, I had quite a lot of practice at being a girly girl.
I have one sister. On my Dad’s side, that is, on Gigi’s side, we are all girls. That is seven granddaughters of Gigi roaming this planet of ours (heaven help us!)
Of those seven granddaughters of Gigi, there are seven more great-granddaughters of Gigi.
On my mother’s side, there are two little girl cousins.
I also have two exquisite nieces from my sister-in-law. The sister-in-law I acquired in 2019 has a daughter.
I am a girly-girl. An indoorsy, princessy-type. A dolls and lace and sewing and ballet lessons type. A “let’s play hair salon” and crafting and making flower tiaras type.
Although I might have been quite stubborn about wanting to have a natural pregnancy and childbirth according to my own rules, there was no way I was not going to find out the sex of my child.
I was naturally expecting to be told I would be having a girl.
So when the sonogram tech said, “It’s a boy!” the first words out of my mouth were, “C’est une blague!” (You are joking!) Then she proceeded to show me the very unmissable outlines and I could not deny it.
“As long as he’s healthy…” is what a new parent is supposed to say. It’s what everyone in France says. But I wasn’t feeling it.
My baby was going to be a boy.
As I walked home in a daze, I kept asking the question, “What do you do with a boy?”
The answer came in a flash: What do you do with a boy? You love him.
Learning to Love a Boy
My family and I are very much on our high horse about Love Languages. If you are unfamiliar with the topic, please, stop what you are doing and go here. I will be here when you get back.
As we struggle through the awkward phases of childhood with our two scalawags, we are discovering how critical it is to love them in ways that they can appreciate, and how deep the impact is to our relationship when they feel loved and heard.
The Love Language in which we express love is not always the same language in which we receive love, so for each person in any given family, there can be two or more languages to learn for everyone to know they are loved.
Example one is the littlest scalawag, who experiences love through touch. He both loves to touch and be touched: when he needs some attention he gets down next to me and asks me to scratch his back. When he wants to show me he loves me, he goes and gets my hairbrush and asks if he can brush my hair.
Example two is the eldest scalawag, who, like his father, understands love by receiving words of affirmation and spending quality time together, but shows love through acts of service.
Pride: the ultimate love killer
Full disclosure: I am a horribly prideful human being. Sometimes, I don’t feel like saying affirming things just because I don’t wanna. As a matter of fact, sometimes I know all it would take to diffuse a situation, would be one kind, affirming word, but because I am too dang prideful to take the first step, I won’t do it. This is true for both scalawag and indulgent husband.
And oh!!!! Please don’t clean the toilets and then expect me to feel loved. Or worse, please don’t clean the toilet, expect me to feel loved and then expect an affirming word. I have been married for almost twenty-two years and this situation right here has been the cause of a million little misunderstandings between my acts of service and quality time husband and myself.
Acts of service and quality time are Love Languages I neither speak nor understand fluently. I can try. On a very good day, I can be magnanimous and can intellectualize these acts as love. But something always gets lost in translation.
The moms of #MeToo
I think about the Love Languages a lot, specifically because of my littlest scalawag. I worry about him and the fact that touch is his language. He understands the world through sensation and adrenaline and conquering. Being a person who experiences love primarily through touch is an awkward way to go through childhood, adolescence and adulthood, each season with its own pitfalls.
Being touch-deprived feels like starvation to people whose Love Language is touch. It is a deep, visceral hunger, one that, much like hunger, can drive people to seek out satisfaction in inappropriate ways.
On the heels of the #MeToo movement, and as a woman who has had her own #MeToo moments, I will always believe the women.
But my heart also hurts for the women who raised the perpetrators. Those men were some woman’s little boys once, too.
I lie awake at night thinking about my littlest one, hoping he will one day find a partner who speaks his language.
Healthy love starts now
Developing a vocabulary around what we need in order to love and feel loved seems so critical now that I am a parent. I am trying to teach my boys, even at four and five years old, about consent, both asking for and giving. I want asking permission to be part of how we learn to respect one another.
Learning to speak and understand Love Languages is to become a student of the people we love. Being intentional in learning how to best love our little ones and our spouses isn’t natural.
I have found that consent is the foundational principle by which we can be intentional.
This can be as simple as teaching my littlest to articulate “Can I sit on your lap?”, or my eldest to say “Do you have a few minutes to play?” It can be “Please scratch my back,” or “Let’s talk for a while about this cool thing I did.” It is me asking “Do you want to wrestle?” or “Do you want me to sit with you while you clean your room?”
Talking about what we need, what we think the other needs opens a dialogue which always leaves us better informed than when we started.
This is not natural
Walking home from school the other day, my littlest scalawag was in the foulest of foul moods. He was hungry and tired. He refused to advance. There was no getting him to move. He was antagonizing his brother, who at that time of day requires very little in terms of antagonism to turn into a fiery ball of nerves.
I wanted to walk away from them and let the dumpster fire burn. There was no way to get between them, there seemed to be absolutely nothing I could say. No threat I could level. We were not moving.
Now remember, I am an awful and horribly prideful person. There were other parents observing these dual tirades and I was humiliated. Oh, I knew what to do. But it would cost me my parental street cred to do it.
Finally, I got down on my knees and said to my hungry, tired, foul-mooded little one. I used the only weapon I had left: I spoke his language. I folded him up in my arms, right there on the sidewalk.
Getting down on my knees in front of a four year old cost me my very soul in that moment.
He resisted for a moment, and then I felt him get all limp and snuggly and then his little arms went around my neck. Then they tightened until they were in a death grip and I thought he would pop my head clean off my shoulders. “Let’s go home, Mama,” he whispered.
Of course, that meant that I had to carry him on my back, his little vise-like fingers holding onto my clavicle. But you know what? We made it home.
As with everything, it is hard, at forty-three years old to start learning new tricks. But it is so satisfying to see that being a student of those I love bears fruit and that loving well is something that can be learned.
Maybe my boys will be part of a generation of men who learn that to love well is to be a student of the people you love.