"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

love languages

"He didn't even say 'Happy Birthday' to me yesterday," Max lamented, a few weeks ago. He was upset about an unpleasant exchange he and Evan had had that afternoon and it was causing him to revisit all past Brotherly Grievances.

I tried to help smooth things over. "He didn't say it, but he sat with you while you opened your presents. He joined you and your friends at your party. He may not have said it with words, but he wished you a happy birthday with his actions."

Max was unconvinced.

I went on: "Did you know that Evan doesn't say 'I love you' to me?"

Max's jaw dropped.

"It's true! When I say it to him, he nods or says, 'Okay,' or grunts in response. He says 'I love you' to Jake, but not to me or Daddy."

"Oh, Mommy!" Max exclaimed, "I'm so sorry!"

"Don't be!" I assured him. "Words just aren't how Evan expresses his feelings toward us. But I know he loves me. He shows me in other ways. And he shows you that he loves you, too."

"Like when he asks me if I want to play xbox with him?"

"Exactly that! Or when he wants you to shoot hoops with him or to join his Army. Evan is a Quality Time kid...not a Words of Affirmation kid."

The words just popped out of my mouth. I hadn't planned on going down the Love Languages road with Max on this random Saturday afternoon, but here we were.


If you're not already familiar, Love Languages are how we prefer to give and receive love. Understanding how your loved ones demonstrate love and what they need in order to feel loved can be really beneficial in all kinds of relationships, not just romantic relationships.

There are 5 Love Languages: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch.

I first learned about Love Languages years ago and, quite honestly, quickly dismissed the concept. I had the same visceral reaction to it that I have to most pop psychology self-help trends. It sounded cheesy and gimicky and, I couldn't put my finger on why, but even a little churchy. I never gave it  much thought beyond clearly identifying as an Acts of Service and Words of Affirmation person.

Plus, I'm just not a romantic and as much as I process my emotions and feelings (almost exclusively in this corner of the internet), have never really delved too deeply into how and why I love. I just do, why dwell on it? Geez.

A year or so ago, I relearned about the five love languages from my youngest sister. She was talking about her relationship with our parents and how she couldn't figure out why they kept clashing over seemingly minor interactions. She finally understood it, though, and asked what I thought about her hypothesis. "If you had guess, what would you say is Mom and Dad's Love Language?" I rolled my eyes. Ugh. Sentimental mumbo jumbo.

"No seriously!" she countered. "Think about it. What are they?"

It didn't take me long: "Acts of Service. One hundred percent."

And it's true. My parents are Do-ers. They drop everything to show up in big and small ways for their children every day, and they always have.

Perfect Example: When I had technical difficulties with my computer printer during my freshman year of college, I called my dad at 10pm the day before a term paper was due. I was frantic and panicky and probably treating him like shit as he tried to troubleshoot with me over the phone. He was *thisclose* to getting in his car and driving two hours to come to my rescue when my mom reminded him (and me) that I could bring my floppy disc (old lady alert!) to the computer lab to print my paper before class the next day.

Unfortunately, my youngest sister, a 20-something who was knee-deep in proving to herself that she was, indeed, a grown-up, wasn't feeling particularly receptive to Acts of Service love from her parents at the time. When my dad brought her car in for an oil change, for example, she saw it not as a generous favor, but as a commentary on her inability to Handle Life.

It wasn't, of course, but humans are complex. Relationships between complex humans? Exponentially more so.

Knowing your loved ones' love languages, even in a parent-child relationship, can help crack the code to untangle those complicated dynamics. Thinking about love languages this way, from the perspective of both a child and a parent, made me look at the pop psychology self-help trend a little differently. A little more compassionately. A little more like it might actually be relevant to my life. I looked into Love Languages again from this fresh perspective, evaluating my kids' expression of and reception to love. It was pretty incredible.


After we dissected his brother's Love Language, I asked Max about his own. "So, what do you think? How do you show love?"

"I'm a hugger!" he said, as he draped his body across mine and kissed my cheek. "That's for sure," I said, playfully rolling him into his own personal space.

He's also, as we discovered in the days following his birthday party, a Writer of Words of Affirmation, just like his mama. Max takes his time with Thank You Notes. Each note is thoughtfully written and lovingly decorated. He peppers his notes with "spicy" words, consulting with an online thesaurus to come up with a "really fancy word that means 'exceptionally fantastic.'"

I came home from a meeting late one night, after the kids had gone to bed. Sam said that Max had left us a note on our bed with instructions to read it together.

It's a long, hand-written note thanking us for "staying right at my side through this whole decade," but what burst my heart wide open was this: "Thank you for supporting and accepting who I am."

He shouldn't have to feel grateful to be accepted by his parents. It should be a given. He's only ten, but society has already shown him that this isn't always the case. In this house, in this family, he is Seen. It matters...words matter...representation matters. Love and support and acceptance and affirmation matters.

Yeah, I'm going to keep this one forever.

Lesson Learned:

It may be sentimental mumbo jumbo, but love really is all you need. No matter how you show it.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Ten Fabulous Years

When I was pregnant with Max, I lost 80% of the hair on the sides and back of my head. I had bald spots that I attempted to conceal with strategic ponytails and headbands. The doctors shrugged their shoulders and attributed it to hormones...but, in hindsight, I think it was something more...it was my body's way of preparing me for the kid we were about to bring into this world. I was self-conscious and full of anxiety over whether or not my hair would grow back, but there was literally nothing I could do about it. My pregnancy with Max taught me to let go... of preconceived notions (I certainly didn't have that gorgeous pregnancy glow I had imagined...) and my need for control. Instead, I had to just be present...to enjoy the fabulous ride that was having (through a scary whirlwind of a labor and delivery), and is now raising, this kid...a kid who, since the very beginning, has figured out how to live in this world on precisely his own terms.


His selfie game is strong.

Of a million different admirable traits, my favorite thing about Max is his unapologetic individuality. He knows who he is, he knows what he likes, he knows how he feels, and he shares it all with us without censoring or holding back.

He is open and honest and quick to put his inner world into words so he can let those of us around him in. He unleashes a nearly endless running commentary from the moment he wakes up until he leaves for school, which he picks right up again the moment he gets in the car.

The other day there was a heaviness about him as he settled into his seat and buckled his seatbelt. "I think I need to make some pretty major changes," he began with a sigh. I glanced at him in the rearview mirror as we pulled out of the school parking lot. "It's just that....well....I just think I'd be a really great teacher." Before I could agree, he continued: "But I can still find time to bake! Like in the afternoons or on weekends! I can be both!" I agreed with him, but reminded him that he has plenty of time to figure things out. Decisions about future career paths in teaching and/or baking don't need to be made right this minute. He exhaled a deep breath. "I just need to figure a few things out." I have no doubt he'll keep us posted as he considers his options.

(He can't even hide how he's feeling when he's reading...)

Change can be hard for Max. The transition to fourth grade was a difficult one, not because of anything specific about the new grade (his teacher and classmates are wonderful), but because he is old enough now to grasp the loss that comes with change. He blinked back tears and his voice was shaky as I tucked him into bed one night in the second or third week of school. "It's not that I don't like fourth grade, but I know that third grade will never happen ever again. It's over and, once it's over, you can't go back."

As he grows and is more aware of the larger world around him, there's anxiety in the Unknown as well as the New. Max is constantly checking in to gauge my reactions to things. If I mention a news story or even an innocuous change in our schedule, for example, Max will pipe up, "But is it bad?" "Is that bad?" "Is that okay?" I'm constantly reassuring him that "no, it's not bad, we're okay, it's alright," which often feels like a lie because, let's face it, this world is pretty F'ed up right now.

We're all kind of living in a moment in time in which we're wondering where and when we'll find the bottom, aren't we?

We point out the good. We celebrate the change-makers and the truth-tellers and the trail-blazers of our time and remind him that you need to experience darkness to appreciate the light... We remind him that the hardest thing is to be a kid right now...mostly powerless in effecting real change...but that being a kid is also the best thing to be right now: Learn from the mistakes of the grown-ups in charge. When it's your turn, do better. BE better. I have no doubt that his generation will be. (And already is...)

Growing up is hard, but it can be excruciating for LGBTQ kids. We're doing our best to shield Max from that trauma, or at least to provide for him the tools he'll need to be resilient. We work diligently to ensure that his little bubble is a safe one, but we can't control the conversations happening at a societal level (the fact that SCOTUS is even having the conversation they currently are over whether or not it is discrimination to fire someone for being gay or trans is bad, but the lack of attention being paid to the massacre of trans women of color is truly unconscionable). We keep from him what we can, though, and we focus on the good. We celebrate LGBTQ identity as a family. There will be bumps in this road, to be sure, but I think we're doing a pretty good job so far... His school had spirit week and kids were encouraged to wear a shirt or jersey of their favorite team. Max wore his Pride shirt: "Pride is my team and I am here for it, grrrl, YAASSS, Queen!" Hair toss, hand on hip, strutting across the kitchen in his 5" heels...

...which leads me to another one of my most favorite things about this kid: his sense of style and self-expression.

I feel terrible that Max has a mom like me who thinks fashion is "my nicer jeans" and whose wardrobe staples come from Target. I don't even know where to start in supplementing his wardrobe. Does anyone reading this have a fashion-forward kid who can recommend a great place to shop? Luckily, Max is creative with accessories and can transform a scarf and belt into something runway-ready when he's feeling the need to strut. Also luckily, we have an amazing neighbor who has gifted Max her collection of heels.

Legs for days.

Max has always been a musical kid but now that he has an iPod to create his own Apple Music playlists, he's rarely without headphones and he constantly provides his own personal soundtrack to his life. He's a quick study of lyrics and can sing along to the chorus by the end of hearing a song for the first time. From the sunny sweet pop of Taylor Swift's Lover album to the bad bitch soul of Lizzo's "Cuz I Love You," this kid has the chops and the range. He knows every word to Lizzo's "Juice," "Good as Hell," "Truth Hurts," and "Fitness," too, which, even when we're listening to the clean versions, are providing quite an education in vocabulary and confidence (and I secretly love every second of it). After a summer with K-pop queens BlackPink on repeat, he sings in Korean now, too. Can't stop, won't stop...

He has refined tastes.

He says that, when he's a dad, he'll raid his secret stash of gourmet Belgian chocolates as soon as he sends his kids off to school. "When I'm a dad, I can do that, right?" he asked, after revealing his grand plans....I told him that yes, he can...because I do the very same thing. His big, blue eyes got wider than I've ever seen them...

When he "swears," he says "Oh my goddess."

He is thoughtful and empathetic. He is a peacemaker among friends and a sometimes rabble-rouser among siblings.

He is a writer and a game inventor and a math wizard.

He collects words in a vocabulary binder and hair styles in a style folder.

He loves a good sugar rush...

He is brave.

He is affectionate and loving...

He is confident and capable...

He is the perfectly sweet middle in my favorite Oreo cookie....

And I'm so damn proud that he's ours.

Lesson Learned:

On your tenth birthday, Max, I want you to know how much I love watching you grow. I love witnessing your self-discovery and am so honored that you trust us to share in your journey.

Know that, as you grow, you will continue to change and that change is good. There are no rules that you could set for yourself now that you will be unable to break as you get older....life is about learning as you go. Know that you can continue to rewrite your story as what you discover about yourself shapes who you want to become.

Know that, until this world has fully woken up, I will continue to fight for your right to exist wholly and affirmatively and gorgeously in it....and know, truly know, in your heart of hearts, that ours is a better world because of the sparkle you add to it each and every day.