We all love our kids. We say it to each other: “I love my kids.”
We say it to our kids: “I love you.” “I love you to the moon and back.” “I love you bigger than anything.” “I love you more than anything else in the world.”
We read them the books: Love You Forever, On the Day You Were Born, and Mama, Do You Love Me?
We mouth the word “love,” and mouth the word “love,” and we mouth the word “love” some more. Four letters. One syllable. Love. I love you, baby. I love you.
But we don’t talk about what hides behind that word. We ignore it; we push it aside. We want the rainbows and sunshine of love, the golden unicorn birthday party of love. We want the tousle of the hair, the magic moment you let go of the bike and watch your child fly away free. This is the image of love we see on TV and in the magazines. They treat love as a noun.
But love isn’t a noun. Love is a verb.
Love is nine months of sickness and aches, nine months of swelling and disrupted sleep. Love is the linea nigra and 12 hours of labor without medication. Love is screaming for an epidural and being told, “No, honey, just a little while longer.” Love is pushing. And then love is fumbling a slippery newborn at the breast, all nipple and mouth not meeting.
Love is written on the body: the crepe-y stomach, the saggy paunch, the extra weight. Love is knowing it would come. Love is not caring.
Love is getting up, again, to a newborn who’s crying, again, when you don’t know why or what or how to get them back to sleep. Love is rising from your bed anyway, picking up your child and, no matter how much you want to hurl them against the wall, instead cooing “Hi, baby.” Love is rocking in a chair, then bouncing on a ball, then feeding, then butt-patting, and then crying with frustration.
Love is your unwashed hair the next morning.
Love is standing in Target, motionless, while your 2-year-old arches out of your arms and screams that he has to have that Pokemon, he must have that Pokemon. And passersby are staring at you, and you know they’re judging, because whose 2-year-old knows about Pokemon anyway? And you have to leave your cart full of groceries and housewares and march out of the store to the tune of ear-splitting screaming and kicking.
Love is cleaning the sand out of your child’s eyes, holding his eyelids out by the lashes while he screams and twists, and exhorting him to “blink, baby, blink.” Love is knowing your younger child did it but he didn’t mean it at all.
Love is a Band-Aid on a non-existent cut. Two band-aids. Three.
Love is cooking dinner, again, when you secretly hate cooking, while knowing that, again, the kids will say it’s disgusting and refuse to eat it. Love is stirring the pots and assembling the ingredients and hoping that this time, it’ll be different — and knowing it won’t.
Love is reading Hop on Pop so many times you have it memorized, and then sitting down on the couch and reading it one. more. excruciating. time.
Love is giving up the television to Daniel Tiger and Wild Kratts. And yes, even Caillou.
Love is setting up the special Ikea Big Boy Bed, with all its pins and screws and panels and confusing instructions, all in time for your son to come home and find it.
Love is yelling, “Time to brush your teeth!” And then waiting. Then yelling again, “Time to brush your teeth!” Waiting. Then dragging each individual child by the arm into the bathroom, where you carefully blop toothpaste on each individual princess brush, and then dole them out and stand, foot-tapping, while little mouths full of toothbrush demand, “UmIdunyet?” even though their toothbrush lights up when they’re finished. All this until toothbrushing is, indeed, finished.
Love is lining up peanut butter and jelly, hunting down a knife, and setting down plates. Then finding bread, and slathering first jelly on two slices, then peanut butter on two slices, in that precise order always, so the kids can have a snack.
Love is wrestling to install a car seat, yelling, “Climb into your seat,” multiple times a day, every single day, and then patiently snapping the complicated straps, making sure they aren’t twisted or loose or pulling.
Love is an action. Love is doing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, even when you’re dead-tired and unshowered and slightly unhinged.
Love is work. Love is doing it anyway.
Love is a verb.