It doesn’t rain here often, but when it does, it always reminds me of the code my parents used, long before I was born, when my dad used to travel for work. He would call my mom from the road, and at some point during the conversation, one of them would say, “It’s raining here,” instead of “I love you.”
When I was growing up, “I love you’s” were not tossed willy-nilly around our house. Not that I ever doubted my parents’ love. They were just ill-equipped to express it. I blame their stern Midwestern upbringings. My dad grew up on a dairy farm. (To this day, he’s often more affectionate with animals than with people.) I never knew my grandparents from that side of the family, but from what I’ve heard* I can’t picture many snuggly, warm-and-fuzzy demonstrations of affection happening in that house. My mom’s family was no different. We’re just not an emotional bunch (at least, not in front of other people).
My older brothers (let’s call them Bubba and Bruno) showed affection for each other, me, or my little sister by wrestling or picking on us. Of the two of us, my little sister’s reaction was always much more dramatic, which made her the bigger target for Bruno’s physical and verbal attacks. I was less fun because my reactions were so low-key. Even in high school, I was so reserved that a teacher once said she had a hard time “reading” me.
Later, when I went off to college, my mom would give me long hugs and say, “Love you, baby,” at the end of a weekend home, although I was not quick to say I loved her back. The closest Bruno ever got was saying “Love you like a hamster.” And I was in college the first time I saw my parents hold hands. Really.
So I was caught a little off guard when Hubby, from the beginning, was not shy about expressing his feelings for me. He would tell me what he was thinking (gasp!), hold my hand, or squeeze me tight. After eight years together, I’ve gotten to the point of being more ooey-gooey, lovey-dovey than he is–as long as it’s in the privacy of our home. But I’m still not like that with anyone else. Even with my own siblings, it’s rare to hear or see expressions of love. As Bubba is fond of saying, “We put the ‘funk’ in dysfunctional.” I think we’re getting better, though. It sometimes takes a tragic event, like the sudden passing of my mother, but in those moments, someone looking in wouldn’t know they were witnessing a lightning strike. It comes naturally to us on the occasions we need it most.
I hope that with our own (future) children, Hubby and I will encourage healthy emotional expression of all kinds. I hope our family will be more demonstrative than my own family was. I don’t want our kids to feel stifled in any way. I want to teach them that even negative emotions are okay when expressed appropriately. As one of my colleagues often says when she’s dealing with aggressive children, “It’s okay to be mad, but it’s not okay to hit/bite/punch your mom in the stomach.”
I picture myself being a certain kind of mom: warm, open, encouraging, affectionate–but even I know my expectations may be a little high. I want to be one of those moms who somehow both fosters independence and gets their kids to tell her everything that goes on in their lives. The kind who handles public tantrums with grace. Who curbs bad behavior with a look. I’m not sure I’ll ever reach those heights of
sainthood motherhood. Still, I know I will love my children, and I plan on letting them know that with my words and actions every single day.
*My dad’s favorite story about his mother is that, when he was little, she used to put eggs in the oven, and when they exploded, she would tell him Hitler was coming. Yes, my dad is that old, and this is where my sick sense of humor comes from.