What is love?
Don’t worry, no one can see you dancing to the familiar tune (now playing in your head) “What is Love” from the 1998 film Night at the Roxbury. In February the world’s attention turns to hearts, cupids, flowers, and gifts or ways to show our love for others. We are all influenced by media, and I began wondering what children think love is, especially given the ways it is portrayed culturally. They understand much more than we think they do.
I began with a Facebook poll—I mean, where better to start these days? I got a surprising response and will let the list speak for itself:
“It’s when you always want to stay together & always want to be together.” Allyson, 5
“Heart & I love you”. Landon, 3
One mom wrote: “I asked Quinton (4.5 months). He looked at me, smiled, & then continued nursing.”
“My heart and happiness.” Ava, 9
“Affection. Love is love. It’s a feeling that you know is real. When someone loves you, you feel it, it can’t be described in a word.” Emma, 12
“A heart, Jesus’ birthday, hugs and kisses!!” Brock, 4
“Love is kind, love is patient. Love will never change. Love is gentle.” Cerese, 8
“Compassion.” Ben, 6
“It’s when you like somebody and have a crush on somebody. I have a crush on you because you love me.” Aven, 6
“Sisters” Autumn, 11 “My sister” Leslie, 8
“Cotton candy” Henry, 3
“When you like someone or something.” Zoe, 8
“How much somebody cares about someone else”. Then I asked him how you show love, and he said, “You show love by making the world a better place and by hugging and kissing people.” Zachary, 5
“Your parents” Gabby, 11
“When someone takes care of someone and makes sure they’re safe.” Jaden, 8
“Their eyes light up and their heart beats faster” – Wyatt, 9
“I love YOU, Mommy.” Well, Nate, what does that mean? “I like you a lot, Mommy.” Nate, 4
“It’s um, well, um, it’s like if you wanna hug something. It’s like you really really like something but you can’t stop letting go to something, and you really really like it. That’s what love is. The end.” Emery, 6
“Love is a dance. It’s like dancing.” Age 5
Then, I asked my favorite seven-year-old, my son Alden. Some days this child is like the average boy, then others, he shocks me with the wisdom with which he speaks. This experiment would not have been complete without hearing from him. This left me in tears.
Me: Alden, what is love?
A: (Sigh) Why are you asking me? I’m only 7. Shouldn’t you know this by your age?
Me: Well, I have my own ideas, but I’d like to know what you believe love is.
A: Let me think about how to explain it so you’ll understand. Come back in a few minutes. (Sighs and closes the bedroom door)
15 minutes later…
Me: Alden, are you ready to answer my question? (He was drawing on his easel)
A: Yes, now listen carefully, Mommy. I know you love the ocean so I think you will be able to understand. Love is like the ocean. It is really really deep in some parts (that’s where it’s dangerous and dark, like in the midnight zone). It’s also really short, like where the water meets the beach. Some ocean is really clear too, and some is cloudy. The ocean is as far as we can see when out in it or on the beach, but in some places (points to his globe) it is small. Now Mommy, the ocean never dries up like a puddle, and it never stops moving. Also, if you weren’t afraid to scuba dive, you could find all kinds of really cool stuff down at the bottom, even old forgotten ships and treasures! The ocean is a home to all kinds of creatures, and the scariest place to other creatures (because they’d get eated!). But, if we know how to drive a boat or have a really good captain we will be safe. Oh, and you have to know how to swim. So, that’s how love is like the ocean – it’s big, fun, scary, beautiful, never goes away, dark, clear, but full of treasure and really cool stuff.
Me: Alden, that is one of the best ways I have ever heard love described (hug).
A: Well, I’ve studied the ocean A LOT. And, I love a lot of people too. It’s pretty easy to understand when you know a lot of things like me.
Clearly my son loves the ocean as much as his momma, and he also picked up on my fear of scuba diving. Grammar aside, he’s right. Love is ever moving, ever changing. Love is dark, deep, and sometimes scary. Love can also be clear, fun, and full of treasure. Love takes trust, and willingness to swim. It can be all-consuming, and it can be a haven. Love is experienced differently to everyone, therefore, defined differently by everyone. So I ask you this, what is love to you? What is love to your family? Lastly, how can you share your unique, yet universal love?