The definition of motherhood has no absolutes; perfection, except in freshly baked cinnamon rolls, is not meant to be. What, then, does it mean to love someone unconditionally? Does it mean you are perfect in that love? How can you be perfect in love?
Clearly, mid-divorce, I am not. In fact, I've been told recently I pretty much suck at it. I'm afraid it's true. I am not ready to love deeply again. The wounds are too fresh, and old voices tug at my ear, whispering their fears to me.
I do, however, love my children, and I believe I love them unconditionally. I know from the moment they were all born, my heart filled with not only the emotion of love, but the instinct, too. A parent's love can be fierce if anything comes close to endangering their kids.
I still yell at them. And it stings. The other day, Ben reminded me of a time when I made him cry. He was about five years old, and he had gone over to a cup on the table and taken a drink. It was diet coke and I yelled at him to put it down. (Indeed, I was one of those hysterical parents who never let anything non-organic pass their lips). I made him cry. Yes, I overreacted, and was wrong to do that. When he reminded me of the event, I apologized.
I'm sure in ten years, I will be reminded again. And I will apologize again.
Mind you, I made him cry when I yelled at him for trying to poke at the soft part of infant Zachary's head, too. He doesn't remember that.
I love him, all my kids, unconditionally. I know, regardless of what they do, or what they say, I will love them. It is without hesitation, even when they make me cry. I would, will and have done anything for them. Anything from making fried egg sandwiches to stepping in front of a bus to save them. It has never been hard, or difficult to love them. Ever.
Romantic love, however, is a totally different thing - to love without conditions. For a long time, I thought it meant loving without pain. I grew up hugging bared wire, thinking love simply hurt. Often. There was no love between my parents to witness, ever. My mother never dated, or had any kind of deep, singular personal attachment. Later in her life, she admitted that her Grandfather was the love of her life. He was the only person, she would say, that truly loved her. Long dead before I arrived, I never witnessed her filled with love for another adult.
Stepping into adulthood, I tried to be the person I imagined I should be in relationships. Honest, loyal, kind, respectful. I'd stay in relationships too long thinking, if I just did this better... it would all be okay. When I met my soon to be ex-wife? I had no idea what a healthy relationship was, let alone how to have one.
I did believe love was like a jigsaw puzzles endless possibilities but only one perfect fit. I found my perfect fit.
I loved her. There was a time when it was unconditional. At least I think it was. The perfect fit did end up creating a whole picture, with kids, friends, family. The memory is in a far away room inside me, locked up, with two guards at the door; Self-Preservation and Fear. I cannot let myself remember loving someone who is causing me so much pain. I must keep my eyes wide open for the next blast. Some day, when this whole nightmare is over, I hope to be able to go visit that place and smile.
Eventually, too many conditions piled up in the doorway. Rules, restrictions, demands, all creating a brick wall between us. There we both stood, on opposite sides of the wall, barking orders at each other. Any love left bounced off the bricks and slapped me in the face, to the hissed chorus of "I told you so" and "Don't be so stupid."
What happened to the love? Where did it go?
I can hound my children to pick up their dirty socks every single day, over and over again, and it does not draw down on the level of love I feel at all. We have arguments, hurt feelings and tears. Never, ever, does it diminish my love for them. Why did it disappear in my marriage? That core, hardwired feeling of love, and being loved; it was there once.
I know I will never be perfect in love. I am a strange collection of neediness and strength, anxiety and charm. There is no perfect in love. Unconditional does not mean without struggle. Instead, what I hold is knowing I am capable of love on deep levels. I see that every day in how I feel about my kids. There was a time when I felt that with my ex-wife. Some day, when the rage has passed, I'll be able to see why it left. Until I know the answer, the guards can't take leave. Like motherhood, there are no absolutes in relationships. I must learn how to keep walls from being built without intent, and then decorated as if they belong.
I have, without question, a great deal left to learn.
(Hand heart photo via Bigstock)