I have read enough John Irving novels to know it is impossible to construct a figurative protective dome around one’s family.
As our sons, Evan, 5, and Sean, 3, experience more of the world and its many wonders, I struggle with the balance between letting them explore and stumble or being a “helicopter parent,” hovering, removing obstacles and trying to stay one step ahead with an endless roll of Bubble Wrap, which hides the world even as it softens it.
Evan is rounding the corner toward the end of kindergarten, and it has been thrilling to watch his exponential growth. Hearing him count to 100 and watching him read his way through beginner’s books, sounding out unfamiliar words until they click, are among my life’s great joys.
I did not grow up in a particularly warm or loving household, which was great training for being a journalist. But I had some tremendous role models in friends’ families, and married a woman from a large, close and loving family, so I understand the importance of expressing love to family and friends.
If Evan and Sean know nothing else about life, they know they are loved. Their mom and I tell them openly and freely, not from habit, but from overwhelmed hearts filled with gratitude for their health and very existence. The boys hear “I love you” from their parents, their grandparents, their many aunts and uncles, their extended family and the groups of friends in our lives. We are teaching them that, in addition to all the love they are blessed to have in their lives, there is an even greater love promised to them through their creator and heavenly host.
The Cleavers, Waltons, Huxtables, Barones, Hecks and Dunphys got nothin’ on us.
But outside the protective parameters of home and family, Evan is learning some tough lessons about love and expression. He recently told a friend on the bus “I love you,” and the friend reacted by calling him weird and pushing him away. This hurt Evan’s feelings and led to a dinner table discussion about what love means to different people and the reality that not everyone shares their feelings the same way, or is open to having other’s feelings shared with them.
It broke my heart to have to add conditions to Evan’s idea of unconditional love. How sad for the world that by 5 years old, some kids are already growing cynical and adverse to expressing or receiving love in its most innocent form.
A week after the bus incident, Evan demonstrated some remarkable resilience. He was assigned to fill in a poster about himself for his special week at school, and in the lines for “What makes you special?” he wrote, in his nascent yet confident block letters, “I love everybody in the world.”
Sean, who does everything he can to keep up with his big brother, said, “Me, too!”
I know that won’t always be true. But it is for now, and I bless their little hearts for not yet wavering under the peer pressure that may one day pierce their loving outlook, but for now is being kept at bay.
You’ll read this someday, Evan and Sean, long after I am passed to dust, but even then, I want you to know that you were right to love, you are right to love, and that even now, separated as we are, I love you.by