Told with a wry grin and a roll of the eyes, the quip draws a laugh from the other long-time married men at the table.
Expressing love is an evolving art in a long relationship. We could say the proof is in the pudding — we’re still together after 27 years — but the gestures and tokens of love put the sprinkles on top.
The worm bin was my special birthday request this year. Our old plastic tumbling composter has outlived its usefulness; it becomes hard to turn when it gets too full, and its contents froze in this winter’s early cold spell. When a gardener-friend came over just before Christmas with some homemade goodies for us and talked up the advantages of worm compost, I turned to Charles with eyes wide, feeling like a child asking Daddy for a new puppy.
And on a cold day in January, just before my birthday, there he was stacking straw bales in a rectangle against the fence near the front door, readying a home for the red wigglers he would add when spring came. He might as well have been singing Roger Miller: “And if that’s not loving you…”
We’re wrapping up this issue just before Valentine’s Day, amidst the usual barrage of advertisements attempting to conflate love with iPads, chocolate, roses, cell phone plans, skimpy undergarments and champagne. I take no issue with any of these things, but after many years of marriage and parenthood, I would like to posit that the true art of expressing love requires imagination and adaptation.
I used to give Charles sweaters on his birthday, until he politely told me he hates gifts of clothing. This year, I gave him a colorful felt squid I found at the Museum of International Folk Art gift shop. It was a reminder of our recent trip to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, where Charles became downright besotted with an octopus named Cordelia. I got him a more serious gift, too, but neither of us can remember what it was. It’s the squid that has the place of honor on the piano.
As our loved ones change, our ways of expressing love must adapt. When our son Ariel was born, the best gifts I could offer him were to sooth him when he cried, feed him when he was hungry, and put him to sleep in our bed or just beside it. By preschool, love meant letting him fall asleep in our bed when he needed to, until we carried him to his own bed. Later, it meant moving his bedroom to a room a little farther from Mom and Dad’s.
When he performed a song on the saxophone in the elementary school talent show, a bouquet of flowers didn’t feel like the right present. Instead, I got him a rubber skeleton from a novelty store with “removable squeaking viscera.” What fifth grade boy wouldn’t love that?
When he was in middle school, love meant letting him be silent when he came home from school, famished and overloaded, rather than expecting him to open up and tell me about his day — a lesson I learned later than I wished.
Now that he is 25, showing love means not calling him every day. He chose to spend most of his winter vacation at home with us this year, and calls often, but he values his space. I do know parents who call their grown children at least once a day, but that would suffocate this particular kid.
Parental love is constant (or so we hope) but the ways we express it needn’t be consistent. Who doesn’t need to know they are still loved as they change?
The theme of gifts runs throughout this issue in fascinating, and unplanned, ways. We have a returning writer in these pages: Lucy Gent Foma, who first wrote for Tumbleweeds 16 years ago, when she was 12 years old. Now a mom-to-be, she wisely foresees the gift she can give her children by recognizing and acknowledging the good things in their lives and cultivating her own happiness.
Amy Miller, the director of the May Center for Learning, writes that we provide children the “gift of potential” when we identify and treat learning differences early. Her article, “Start Strong,” offers signs we can look for in young children’s behavior that could indicate a need for special assistance.
The quest for parental perfection is more of a punishment than a gift, as Nina Bunker Ruiz notes in her essay on learning to accept herself as a “good enough parent.” Sometimes letting ourselves off the hook of perfection is the most caring gift we can give ourselves and our loved ones.
We celebrate the Earth’s birthday in April, a great time to think about the gift of thanks we owe our Big Mama. Several community groups, including Wise Fool, Railyard Stewards, ARTsmart and Arts of Nature, are planning a celebration at the Railyard on April 26, encouraging us to take care of our planet at home, in our community and our schools throughout the year.
While our attention is on the Railyard, Curiosa Crow, our pseudonymous nature writer, opens our eyes, ears and noses to the gifts of the Santa Fe Rail Trail, a ribbon running through our city from the Railyard out to Rabbit Road and beyond.
Who knows what I’ll ask for, or be surprised by, on my next birthday. In the meanwhile, it warms my heart to see those straw bales, still draped with a fading blue bow, in a rectangle against the garden fence, the space in the middle filling with our kitchen and yard waste. Those little red worms, munching their way through our food scraps and cranking out pay dirt, are in every sense a gift that keeps on giving.