What Love Really Means

I have something to confess: I’m not very romantic.  I’m about as romantic as sorting the recycling.  So when Valentine’s Day rolls around each year, I’m not a big participant.

Except for the year Scott and I were engaged.  I was living in New York, and he was stationed in Georgia.  I stayed up late baking heart-shaped frosted sugar cookies the night before I flew down to surprise him.  All the necessary ingredients for romance, right?  What I’m neglecting to tell you, though, is that Scott was not the first to sample those cookies.

At the time, my roommates and I were experiencing a bit of a rodent problem. We set traps all over the apartment but had yet to catch the little bugger.  The next morning, after leaving the cookies on the counter overnight to cool, I noticed a path of tiny mouse tracks through the icing.  In a hurry to catch my flight, I quickly tossed the tainted ones in the trash and packed the rest in my suitcase.  Scott never knew, until now.

Happy Valentine’s Day, sweetheart!

Since that incident, we’ve exchanged our fair share of flowers, cards, and rodent-free treats, but the holiday is still not a huge hullabaloo in our house.  Rainey and Lilla, however, insist we celebrate, and their interest in matters of the heart is growing these days.

While reading a book to them before bedtime recently, the girls thought they discovered the key to knowing if you were in love.  In the story, the main character’s best friend told her to place her hand over her heart and say a boy’s name.  If her heart beat faster, it meant she was in love.  Rainey was almost convinced, until Lilla put her hand over her heart and said “spaghetti” and experienced a flurry of heart flutters.

A few days later, while making homemade valentines for friends, I noticed Rainey signing her cards addressed to boys, “From: Rainey” instead of, “Love: Rainey” like she did for the girls.  I asked her about the discrepancy, and she replied, “I don’t want to give anybody the wrong idea.”

Meanwhile, Lilla was yammering on about which of her friends recently broke up with their boyfriends and how it might impact the impending holiday.  They’re seven.

Thankfully, the glitter and glue soon ran out, and I’d heard enough.  But out of curiosity, I asked the girls for their definition of true love.  Rainey tried waxing poetic but eventually admitted, “I’ve got nothing.”  Lilla thinks it’s all about kissing.

That’s when I knew I had to get busy, and not in the bedroom sense of the sentiment.

So this year, instead of goodies and gifts for Valentine’s Day, I gave the girls a challenge: to figure out, and put into practice, the real meaning of love.  Using The Love Dare by Alex and Steve Kendrick as a loose guide, I’ve been teaching them a little bit about love every day, what it looks like, and how it acts.  Then I give them a daily dare.  It might be something as simple as doing an unexpected act of kindness or offering an unprovoked compliment.  Or it might be something more difficult, like promising not to say anything mean to each other for the entire day.  The entire day!

Afterwards we talk through the dare, sharing what they’ve learned and how they’ve responded, and then the girls put a sticker on their “Heart Charts” hanging on the fridge.  When the 40-day journey is done, we’ll celebrate with heaps of chocolate, candy hearts, or, in Lilla’s case, pasta.

The girls are almost halfway through the challenge, and I think they’re starting to get it.

During an English lesson the other day, I asked Rainey to use the word “simple” as an example of how a word can sometimes have more than one meaning.

“Loving someone is simple, but it’s not easy,” she answered.

Not only does she know this now from personal experience, but that morning she also heard about a friend of mine who demonstrates this point perfectly.  This friend has a son who’s a junkie, living off the streets, hustling, stealing and dealing to support his heroin addiction.  He’s completely unlovable, my friend admits, and if he wasn’t her son she’d probably think he was trash.

“But,” she told me, “he’s my boy, and I won’t give up until one of us is dead.”

That, to me, is a picture of true love.

So is, hopefully, what Rainey and Lilla see when they look at Scott and me.  Sure, we have our hang-ups, but at the end of the day we still choose to love each other no matter what or how long it takes.  Like my friend, until one of us is dead.

But I hope that’s not anytime soon.  I’d really like to see the girls finish this challenge.  Besides, I’m pretty sure I’ll be the first to go.  Because if Scott survived those cookies, he can pretty much survive anything.

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