Why are we able to receive love from others? What does it do for us in our daily lives? How do we know that we are worthy of love? How do we expect others to love us? Can we and should we reciprocate that love? Is love helpful or is it dangerous to us? Have you ever questioned any of these things?
I haven’t. Each day when I venture into the world I am wrapped an invisible blanket of my husband’s love. It acts as a buffer for me when I face adversity, frustration, or disappointment. Sure, I might get frustrated or make a mistake at work. I might embarrass myself in a social situation. It doesn’t penetrate my protective cloak. None of these negative experiences define me. The upset they cause doesn’t change any core image I have of myself. I still believe in my own innate goodness. After all, I am cherished by someone. I am safe. He knows the real me. He sees me. He hears me.
I do not question my right to be known in this way. We have been married for almost 10 years now. In the first year of our marriage we lived in the tiniest apartment imaginable with little shoebox bedrooms. I remember having to climb over the teeny full sized bed to open the drawers to my dresser. We didn’t have any money. We lived in a bad section of the city where we both worked. Each night we would fit together like puzzle pieces in that narrow bed. Luke and I whispered and laughed quietly long into the night. Bills and city shootings be damned. It was as if we were apart from the rest of the world in our own private cocoon of young love. Somewhere during that time I developed the odd habit of tucking the soles of my feet into the back of his knees while we slept. It reminded me that I wasn’t alone. I was seen. I was heard.
The first year we brought home our little chickens was both the hardest and the best. Being a new mom filled me with a sense of joy and contentment. We were also living in the middle of their intense trauma responses and seemingly chaotic functioning. There were many times that I questioned if our children were happy with us. Were we the right parents to give them what they needed. But I had someone who believed in me just as much as I believed in him. Even though our children weren’t in a place to reciprocate our love yet, I still had that invisible cloak. I was seen. I was heard.
Whenever I would doubt myself all I had to do was tuck my feet into the back of Luke’s Knees. On the couch, in bed, it didn’t matter. This one action reminded me that I belonged somewhere. Physical touch is my primary love language. I read somewhere that the average couple in the U.S. spends only 3 seconds per week kissing. I found this to be ridiculous. I probably spent 3 seconds in the morning kissing Luke before breakfast. Having a physical relationship is probably the most sustaining act of love for me. Dancing in the kitchen with my husband, making love, the feel of his legs on the soles of my feet even though we now sleep in a king sized bed, these things sustain me. They let me know, despite any circumstances we face, I am seen. I am heard.
Please don’t think that I am recommending for all readers to walk around sticking their feet behind their unsuspecting partner’s knees. That would be weird. What I am saying is that we all have our own relational roadmaps. Love sustains us. How do we know that we deserve this? What was it that gave me the map to believe this? How does love, in any form, sustain me?
The answer seems so simple to me.
I am safe to love zombies, because of my mom. She gave me a roadmap that showed me I am worthy of being seen and heard. She also gave me my favorite book, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. My dad was unreliable throughout my childhood. He always loved me but he was in and out of the picture. He didn’t really see me. He didn’t really know me. From birth, my mother has always been the consistent variable in my life. I love zombies? She hid a stuffed zombie around our house performing various tasks such as making coffee or reading a magazine. I needed spinal surgery? She was there. Twice. Someone noticed me. I was important because she was seeing me in all the glory of my good, bad , and incredibly weird parts. And let’s face it, I was a pretty rotten teenager. Sorry, Mom!
Mom with baby me.
When I was young my mother wore Bluegrass scented deodorant by Elizabeth Arden. When I needed comfort I would lean against her and just breathe her in. It was the scent of home.When we crossed a busy street I reached for her hand automatically. When I insisted on wearing a pot on my head to preschool, she rolled with it. She survived my painful 14-year-old self torturing an innocent guitar. Her touch kept me safe. Her love kept me safe. To this day, when I pass the Elizabeth Arden counter in a department store I become instantly calm. I smile. Home.
Luke and me
That roadmap of love created a template that I now carry with me. It taught me to love others the way I was loved as a child. Well, maybe not the torturing a guitar part. No, Carl CANNOT have an electric guitar. I’m not that good of a parent. Mom taught me what kind of love I deserved. Now I feel safe in my relationships. When I married Luke I chose wisely. I knew instinctively that I deserved a partner in this life who would treat me a certain way. I deserved to be seen. I deserved to be heard. Also, he didn’t (attempt to) play an electric guitar. Whew!
My step dad wanted to wear flippers and a cape when he married my mom. It didn’t even give me pause. This fun-loving, zany guy was a good choice for her. It never occurred to me not to love him. Family means safety. I do not question my importance in his life. I do not question his batman footie pajamas. My kids know him as “Papa.” He provides me (and possibly Gotham City) with a sense of safety. I know beyond a doubt that he sees me. He hears me.
I recently had a scary appointment with my neurosurgeon. After having an extremely rare reaction to the titanium implant in my back, we needed to discuss the possibility of removing it. My fear reaction was visceral. I needed both of my parents. Cape or no cape, Papa had to save the day. I knew he would.
I hope to give this roadmap to my children. It’s almost impossible for me to understand why it’s so hard for them to accept love. Their experiences from their biological home shaped a different outlook. I’ve never been through those things. I cannot imagine what they have survived. All I can do now is follow in the footsteps of my parents. I want my children to grow up with their own stuffed zombies. Wear whatever capes or pots they choose. And hopefully, they find their own Luke. Everyone needs a place to tuck their feet in.
Mary’s 8th birthday cape, made by Nana.
**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.
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