Friday, August 26, 2011

Conditional Love

One of the greatest things about kids is the intense, very definitive joy they see in the world. Things are often either loved with great passion – or completely and utterly distained. It is black and it is white. Things are usually either entirely IN or they are entirely OUT.

For example, some friends have a son who is absolutely crazy, just gonzo, about anglerfish, those creepy-looking deep-sea fish with huge teeth, transparent head, and a bioluminescent growth atop their noggin with which to lure prey. He draws anglerfish, he studies anglerfish, he recites anglerfish data. For his birthday, most of the gifts were anglerfish presents (or at least related to deep-sea diving), so much so that our own erector-set like gift was rather conspicuous in its lack of scales, over-sized teeth, or bioluminescence. Bottom line: that kid is NUTS for anglerfish (or he was, at least a week ago – who knows what he’s onto now, viperfish maybe). Best part? His parents have absolutely NO idea why.

And our girls are no different. For years they have been obsessed with mermaids (thank you Disney for reinvigorating the previously downtrodden mermaid branding industry…). They are crazy passionate about them, studying books about them, gleefully pointing them out wherever we go, and even calling out which ones they are.

For example, let’s say we pass by a mural with four mermaids on it. Lillian will call out, “Mermaids! I’m the blonde one, and the one with the crown!” while Sylvia chimes in with “I her! And I her too!”

You see this exuberant joy also come squirting out all over the place for a new toy, or a certain food, or a character or animal on TV. But then, suddenly (and believe me, I look forward to this day with mermaids – and even more so the Disney princesses), one random day, that particular thing is out, just ‘poof!’ gone.

“No, I don’t like that book anymore.”

“But I thought you loved this book?”

“No, it’s for babies.”

“Oh, okay…”

“Dad, I don’t like pants. Boys wear pants.”

“Oh, okay…”

“No, I don’t like mac ‘n cheese anymore.”

“What?!?!? You love mac ‘n cheese.”

“No, I don’t. Not anymore.”

“Oh, okay…”

Of course, these conversations usually happen just AFTER you bought the companion book, or took advantage of the sale on pants at Target, or just stocked up on a case of mac ‘n cheese.

This passion also works with friends. Lillian in particular likes to spout off about her best friends, sometimes cranking out a list of four or five girls, that she immediately then edits down or up, depending on who she forgot or who is in/out that week. Sometimes this list (or her ongoing list of boyfriends – yes, that’s plural as there is usually between three or five of them) is, days (or even moments) later, quickly appended depending on how things go at school.

Sylvia though is a little more deliberate and focused. She has one best friend: Natalie, or ‘Nat-Nat’. And so, in Sylvia’s world, Natalie is the thing she just adores the most. She LOVES Nat-Nat. She literally squeals with delight just seeing the girl. If we set up a play date, she can’t stop asking when it’s going to happen.

“Natalie coming over today?”

“No honey, that’s on Thursday.”

“Oh. [Pause as the little wheels in her brain grind on.] Is today Fursday?”

“No, today is Tuesday.”

“Oh. [Pause. Grinding…] When is Fursday?”

This has lead Sylvia to quantify her loves, based on their relation to the power of her affection for Nat-Nat. She started to say things like, “I love Natalie most in the world!” But then Lillian (as she often does) corrected her; “No, you CAN’T love Natalie more than you love mom and dad!”

Thus Sylvia began to let us know things like, “Daddy, I love you even more den Natalie.” And “Momma, I don’t love Natalie as much as I love you.” We could start to tell if we were having a good day or a bad day, based on where we fell on Sylvia’s 'Nat-Nat Meter'. If we were above Natalie, we were good. If we’d slipped down below Nat-Nat, we’d done something wrong.

This also led to good-byes like, “Bye Mamma, I love you more den Natalie!” This then led Lillian to chime in with things like, “Bye daddy, I love you more than ice cream!” This all continued to escalate into longer and longer good-byes with bigger and bigger examples of their unfettered love. Some recent greatest hits included being loved more than:

  • Trips to the park/zoo/children’s museum, etc.
  • Cotton candy, chocolate, Smarties, and various other treats
  • King’s Island amusement park
  • Froot Loops

But my favorite came from Lillian the other day. I don’t quite know where this one came from, but I just loved the sound of it:

“Good bye mom, I love you more than cheetahs!”

The best part is, I don’t recall Lillian even mentioning that she even LIKED cheetahs, but there it was: she loves her mom even more than the fastest land animal in the world.

And you have to admit cheetahs are damn cool. They are sleek and lean, run up to 60-mph, are natural born killers, and always have that uber-cool, Shaft-like “Damn right, I’m a cheetah and you know it,” look in their eye (if you don’t believe me, next time you see a photo of a cheetah lounging, just mentally play the Shaft theme song in your head – it totally fits). 'They are some bad motherfu- Hush yo’ mouth! I’m just talkin’ about cheetahs!' So, especially as a cheetah fan, I find that to be loved even more than a cheetah is high, high praise indeed.

And it's especially rewarding as a parent who can’t run 60 miles per hour, doesn't exuded Shaft-like coolness, and isn't literally one bad cat, that someone, even if ‘just’ a little person, lets you know that you are even better than a cheetah.

But, now that our love from Lillian is apparently quite secure, it’s time to go check the Nat-Nat Meter and see how we’re doing with Sylvia today…