Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Love at First Sight

“I can’t believe I’m holding him in my arms and he’s mine!”

I hear these words from my daughter and my heart stops for a beat. Something stirs from years ago when she was placed in my arms and I felt that same love at first sight.

She is only 10. Her first love is a kitten. She is already acting like a joyful new mom.

The instinct to love and protect is awesome. I feel it so intensely for my children that when they get the slightest hurt my whole body surges with electricity ready to fight off the danger for them. I know that if anyone or anything approached my daughters as a threat, I would take them down with super strength, my teeth clenched and fire in my brain. It’s just instinct.

Other relationships have been harder.

Even with my mother, the earliest intimate relationship of my life, there was a time when talking to her and seeing her was more stressful than joyful. She was my world for so many years. I sought her approval, her attention, her time. But in order to figure out who I was, we had to go our separate ways for a while. It took time to build an adult relationship, yet still appreciate the motherly nurturing of years past.

Then there is my father. Artistic. Quiet. Helpful in the way dads are with cars or moving to a new apartment. We picked our way through the messyness of adulthood back to each other. Our common ground is work, his grandchildren, travel and gardening. He buys a certain flowering plant every year in memory of his own mother. She died too soon and we both adored her, another thing in common.

I’ve had to learn over the years how to be a better daughter, sister, wife and friend. Mothering has come the easiest, maybe because the girls are literally part of me. I still struggle with the other relationships, sometimes opening my mouth like eldest kids often do — when no one asked my opinion. I get insecure, impatient, impractical, impossible. Like below-zero temps in February, I’m sometimes downright awful. Full of darkness.

Former parish minister and author Barbara Brown Taylor says, “I need darkness as much as I need light. I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again.”

I’m not sure I can embrace the darkness as just another part of me yet. I’ll have to read more of her book. Good mothers and wives and sisters and friends don’t act like jerks. They don’t act selfish and fatigued and triggered. They are supposed to be patient and focused on the comfort of others. They are supposed to wake up grateful for another chance to serve under God’s bright blue sky.

Then again, is that what I should demand of my daughters? That they’ll never fail? They will. Their lives will be messy. They will suffer for love. Animals and people will leave them one way or another. They will have to find their way back from the abyss, from whatever the world dishes out.

Darkness. Light. Pain. Love. Seeing my daughter with the little gray bundle she calls Toby, I ache from that smile on her face. It is love at first sight. Her love. Her life.

I only hope that when the darkness comes, she’ll know that her parents and sister and friends will help her figure it out…creating a new, stronger relationship from the hardships. Maybe that’s the true test of love, what we do after first sight.