Like Verizon Wireless’ billing department, love is a mysterious thing. Over the years I’ve learned a few things about the latter. As for VW billing, I’ve delegated that to my husband, who has a higher tolerance for hold music than I.
Since I began my exploration of the modern parenting discourse, I’ve come to think that a spectrum from least to most, more to less, is not an apt way to describe relationships.
As Ayelet Waldman can tell you, writing that you love your husband more than your children is going to get you a fatwa. And a book contract. As the mommy website people will tell you
Did you know? I haven’t visited DC Urban Moms, Urban Baby, or any other mommy war battlefield since February 12! 2011 is shaping up well.
--as I was saying, they’ll tell you that this sentiment is treasonous, pathological, and likely to inflict lasting psychological trauma on your 7-week-old. It’s also kind of dumb, in the way that “I like metabolizing protein more than I like breathing” is dumb.
As I’ve written before, I use the term “Eggmus” (my child's pronunciation of eczema) as shorthand for the love that we feel for our children—so different than what we feel for the adults in our lives. Eggmus is your child complimenting your “fancy” 10-year-old t-shirt. It’s the mispronunciation you hope she won’t outgrow. It’s kids.
My daughter and I had a really cool talk about this recently, during which we took turns telling one another what we love about one another. Our loves were different, but they’re equally strong. There are wide differences of opinion about this, even among my friends, but I’m squarely in the camp that says that my kid has to be considerate of my feelings, but not at all responsible for my emotional needs. I don’t think that she’s old enough to cope with being needed by a grownup—partly because she’s old enough to know that she doesn’t really get what it is that grownups give one another. I feel I should earn her affection—she has the right to my effort.
That’s unlike any other relationship I have. No adult friendship or marriage could survive that dynamic.
I love the way my child pronounces ‘eczema’ (Eggmus). Without her, there would be no Eggmus. I would, ummmm, not have that feeling that, ummmmm, Eggmus is the best word ever and I would, ummmm, just be friggin miserable. When I see her my heart melts. Eggmus. You know?
This love is sublimely, gorgeously free of need.
To me, this is the mystery of mothering. You spend your life learning to cultivate mature relationships that begin with doing and evolve to inchoate feelings that make life great. Then this little soft person plops into your world with inchworm-sized fingers and the capacity to come up with “Eggmus.” And she becomes the keystone relationship of your life—the one you’ve been training for since you first managed to share a spittle-covered alphabet block with the kid next to you.
People who think Big Thoughts About Brains have partially explained how our relationship-building capacities develop.
An infant feels the warmth of proximity, the security of needs met.
This is a three-year-old’s idea of friendship:
Why I Julio your friend?
Because I like him.
Why do you like him?
Because he’s my friend.
Why else do you like him?
Because he lives next door.
At eleven, the child answers this way:
Why is Amber your friend?
Because I can trust her with my secrets.
Why else is she your friend?
Because we think the same way about things.
So in the middle school years, when kids start to be more like us, they seek to differentiate themselves from parents. Maybe that’s when they need more out of us than our capacity to be selfless with the spittle-covered block that is our love.
Through adolescence and beyond, our children go through the same evolution that we remember—toward being engaged and loving friends and spouses. And then plop, here comes kiddo. Whom they love because he is their child. Whom they love because he is there, in their arms. Much like their first friend.
In my Eggmus-filled home, love is once again primal. Have we come full circle?
Maybe not yet. Every couple of months I visit my 97-year-old grandmother. My life has spanned that cycle of relationships with her—from infant in her arms, to playmate in her condominium, to confidante who wanted “a private conversation,” just us. She lives surrounded by photos, the viewing of which occupies half of each visit.
Our private conversations have changed. I report the news. She reports on visits. She reminds me of important things—her new twin great grandchildren, the location of the mail room at her residence. Which is very close to her apartment, by the way.
Her face is bathed in the serene and glowing Eggmus of stored love. A goodbye hug is heady, simple, and primal, even though saying goodbye to a 97-year-old necessarily makes one worry. But her own Eggmus, love that has been built for so long it is self-sustaining, floats above the room, patient wordless, and not tethered to need.
Got Eggmus? Send me your thoughts on what love means, what makes you go “awww,” or anything else that is arguably on point.