Tonight my son fell asleep on the couch before I could take him up to bed.
My daughter was having a sleepover at her grandparents’ house. The house was quiet, and it was just me and the sleeping boy, breathing softly and deeply in the place where he’d waited patiently for bedtime.
I picked him up, his body heat wrapping around me before his little arms could. His head rested in that spot he has considered his from birth, that resting hollow of my neck and collar bone. I carry him up the stairs, his weight slowing my steps, and I smell his particular smell—sweat and sweet and perfect. I put him gently into bed, covering him lightly with his favorite blanket and making sure everything he loves was in its place.
I walked down the stairs and wondered if one day he will feel the echo of this night and all the others like it. I wonder if his memories will be filled with the impression of love, even before the words of love that he’s always heard. I think if love had a home, it would be in those moments. You know the moments I’m talking about? The quiet ones in which love feels so full that it overflows.
For me, it was my mother putting me to bed. She did this thing that I have always remembered—though at first, I didn’t even remember it clearly. It was almost a faint whisper, but then one day it came back to me. She used to trace her fingers lightly over my face and say, “Head bumpers, eye winkers, nose droppers, mouth eaters, chin chompers, eat ’em, eat ’em, eat ’em.” It always ended with a little tickle. This gentle routine filled my childhood, and sometimes the feeling would come back to me, although I rarely remembered the words and had to call my mom to ask her to repeat them.
There were other times too—days when I was ill, with the feel of a cool cloth on my brow. A silly dance that my father made up that he would do with me and my sisters to our cries of, “Again! Again!”
When I think of love and my parents, I don’t think of the words. I think of the ways I felt loved—and not all of them in lullabies or silly dances. Once, it was the roar of the mama bear: my mother charging into a school where I had been bullied by a teacher. I remember the distinct feeling of embarrassment as my mother stood in the hallway dressing down the offender, the shut door in no way blocking the noise. But, I also felt the love. No one was going to target and harass her baby! So, when I think of love and my parents, that’s where love finds home.
With my sisters, love was home in support and defense. It was my older sister making me a picnic basket of goodies at a time when I was struggling. It was my younger sister crying with me when my heart broke over a boy who wasn’t worth my time.
With friends, it has been the fierceness of their devotion, their unwavering belief, the intense conversations, and laughing so hard that tears rolled down our faces. It is inside jokes and inspiration.
And then, there are the lovers. The loves—and again, I don’t go back to words, or to flowers brought, or compliments paid. I go back to the small things, things that might be meaningless to anyone but me.
It’s got me thinking about the love I put out in the world, and how the people in my life feel love. Where does love go home for me? I’d like to think that my children will trace love back to me carrying them, sleep-heavy, up to bed and putting them softly in their beds. I’d like to think it’s me tucking them in or reading a story—or, more likely, the lullabies they request and that I sing, poorly but with great heart, again and again and again.
If love lives in the smallest things, I can’t help but think—with the state of the world—that we can all do a little better. Maybe we can send love out in the smallest things, even to people we don’t know. In the smile that we give the cashier who checks us out, to the people we see on the streets.
If love is in the smallest things, then it’s in those mindful moments of kindness and compassion. It’s in the attention paid and the care taken. It requires us to ignore the ever-tempting distraction of entertainment and to tune in instead to all of the people we encounter. Because if love has a home, don’t we want people to trace that love back to us and to our lives?
I know that I do. And I can do better.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Image: Flickr/Ali Edwards
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis