Neel did nothing by way of response. He blinked and then followed the teacher's just-issued directive to sit on the carpet for a story. My son did the same.
Just before I walked out, I turned back to see my son talking to his friend, smiling like he always does. I couldn't help but feel a little sense of worry, a protectiveness. I wondered if the kids in his class smile at him the way he smiles at them. I wondered if they return his kindness and his giving
I recognized in him my same propensity to love, big and vulnerable.
I've written before about being protective of my son's feelings. This is something every parent experiences and must learn to manage. We wish we could shelter them from pain. We know we can't. We attempt to bridge the resulting gap.
It was two years ago when I last visited the topic, and though my son's sweetness was apparent by then, I didn't know just how big a part of his personality being kind and supportive and loving would be. He is a shirt-off-his-back kind of person.
I wish I could claim some sort of credit for his generosity, but I know I can't. This sort of thing is either in one's nature or it isn't.
Last night I watched him sleeping, spent from a day of playing at preschool and again later with his grandma. I swept the sweaty hair off his face and thought about the name his father and I gave him. His name means "friend," and it's a name we gave him very much on purpose. Last night I thought about how thoroughly he lives up to that name, and how I hoped he will have a life full of friendships with people who show him the same goodwill he so naturally extends to others. I have never once seen him do or say something unkind to another child. I've seen him endure plenty of rejections and acts of thoughtless cruelty of the kind only kids--genuinely unaware of the effects of their actions--are so free with; he always responds with more kindness, more openness, makes attempts to understand.
I thought about his future relationships, wondering if he will fall into an often-painful pattern of being the one who loves more, who gives in, the extender of unanswered good faith, the forgiver...the sucker.
I thought about something I'd read the day before--one of those "words of wisdom from a woman married 70+ years" kind of articles often posted and re-posted on Facebook. What struck me were these words: "Don't be afraid to be the one who loves the most."
I knew what she meant.
There was a time in my life when I'd come to the conclusion that the world was divided into those meant to love, and those meant to receive love. Most people do both, but some people seem more comfortable doing one or the other. I'd been in a number of relationships wherein I felt like the giver of love. While at times I wished I could sit back and merely receive, giving little in return, I knew this was not in my nature. It's possible I could overcome that nature, but I knew in my heart I didn't really want to. I was and would always be a lover.
Now I understand that not all relationships have this unequal balance. It's possible to be in a relationship where both parties give freely of themselves, allowing each to accept the other's love wholeheartedly. These relationships aren't operating under the mistaken idea that to give love is to lose power. They are aware of the exponential power created by a cyclical, swirling exchange. In such a relationship, fear doesn't even factor in--fear of losing the other, fear of losing the upper hand, fear of putting one's self too far out on the limb. There is just the knowledge that loving feels better than withholding love, and there is the joy at having found another person who sees things the same way.
Having arrived at this place in my life feels nice...I am at peace. But apart from being in an equal-exchange-of-love relationship, I have the sincere belief, now, that it is impossible to love too much or too completely, regardless of what one receives in return. If my heart is full of love, there is nothing to be gained by anyone involved if I decide to keep it to myself. It's not a limited resource. We feel love; we give it away; we make more...and again, and again.
So in that light, I look back at my son and think that I need not worry about his tender heart. My baby's heart is so strong that it can give of itself all the time, as much as he wants, without its foundation ever growing weaker. In fact it is strengthened. Every time he reaches out to another person with a "hi" or gives a gift or flashes his smile, or says some encouraging words to a child who's trying to make something happen, he is adding to the body of goodness in the world. It doesn't matter whether others respond in kind. If he was born to give love, withholding it would be a painful and pointless endeavor. If, in the course of his life, he should happen to find others who return it and give of themselves freely as well, so much the better.
There are so many things we parents worry about and traits we see in our kids that preoccupy our minds. Worrying that my son will love too much should be least among them.