I haven’t changed the family photographs in our picture frames since 2010, which means entire walls of my home are covered in pictures of chubby toddlers and newborn babies, sometimes chubby toddlers holding newborn babies — sometimes, licking them. If you look closely, you may spy the same pair of black yoga pants I wore for, well, way too long.
A choir of cherub faces peek out of blue blankets, and later pink blankets, each topped with a pastel knit hat, like the swirl on the top of an ice cream cone. Like my freezer on any given Saturday night, we had a lot of ice cream.
In our nursery we had a frame that read, “Do All Things In Love” in beautiful swirly golden script. I remember looking down into my arms at my swaddled ice cream babies and thinking how could anyone do this but in love? From the beginning, I was completely, utterly, enamored with each of them.
This week, after sticking my hand into a mold-stricken ham sandwich hovering at the bottom of my son’s basketball bag, I unleashed a string of obscenities that would make a sailor blush, before I launched the sandwich’s furry green slices at the wall. Directly above the ham streaks dripping down the paint was the nursery frame with beautiful golden script, staring down at me in mockery. Do ALL things in love, huh? I say, there is reason this frame holds a photo of a newborn and not a 14-year-old man-child.
Because, even when sleep-deprived (for 10consecutive years) its easy to love newborn babies. Yes, they require a lot of attention, but it comes in the form of snuggling and quiet feedings, lullabies and baby baths. My response to their raw fragility was instinctive, and I trusted my hands and body to provide what was best for them.
This, and the top of their heads smell like heaven: baby lotion and Dreft laundry detergent.
A 14-year-old boy’s laundry laughs at anything less than color-safe bleach and I have not seen the top of my six-foot son’s head since 2014, let alone smelled it. When he is angry, I can no longer pull him onto my lap and read “Big Red Barn” until all the kitties have been accounted for and his tolerance for my singing voice has waned considerably. He insists on having the last word of every conversation and is a self-proclaimed expert. At everything.
It’s not as easy to “do all things in love” when dealing with self-proclaimed experts.
For example, one might say, when I pick up the third, partially consumed, bottle of Gatorade in his bedroom closet, I’m doing it in … annoyance.
When I have to physically remove the cell phone from his body because I haven’t had eye contact in four hours, I’m doing it in … frustration.
Or when I wait in the carpool pick-up line for 25 minutes before learning he skipped practice, I’m doing it in … anger.
And love’s ugly brother, “Worry” has been showing up uninvited for years.
By 9 p.m. I’m doing all things in … exhaustion. And, by the grace of God, black yoga pants.
And after they are finally asleep, and I am left to lamplight and laundry, it’s hard to know if I have loved them well enough, if my instincts are reliable (after all, who would send a slice of cold meatloaf to school in a Ziploc bag?). It’s not as easy as it was in the nursery to feel like I am enough.
But, I remind myself, love grows with us and from us in ways we don’t always expect. The same love that once rocked babies to sleep will transform into a curfew cop and a chore inspector, a homework helper and a (white-knuckled) driving instructor. Onesies turn into jerseys and backpacks will eventually turn into briefcases and still, the love will be there.
Marny Stebbins lives in Stillwater with her husband and four children. She is a staunch believer in early bedtimes, caffeine enhancement and humor therapy.