What does love mean to us? The answer to that question is very individual, and changes over time. It also varies a little by gender, and even the times in which we grow up.
Newborn babies experience love completely through physical contact. Science has proven that little ones thrive on that human touch, and it actually makes them healthier. I’ve known people who volunteer at hospitals to hold and rock sick children. It fills in gaps for parents who must work, and allows nurses to take care of more critical needs. This is also a great time for grandparents to bond. Though I’ve never seen any research on the subject, I think the attitude of the person doing the holding and rocking comes through and affects the behavior of the child. New parents are understandably nervous and apprehensive. They may even be anticipating those college educations that will soon need to be paid for. Grandparents, on the other hand, are totally relaxed, stress-free and completely joyful about the new addition to the family. We are setting the stage at this point for the days when Mom and Dad will be concerned with discipline, and Granny and Grandpa will be more about having fun.
Small children continue to enjoy the “feel” of love, and soon transfer their affections to inanimate objects. I remember a huge, furry stuffed poodle that I loved to lay on, drag around and sleep with. As my maternal instincts kicked in, I adopted a rag doll named Mandy that I still own. She is unique, because she is fashioned out of black material with stitched-on eyes and black yarn hair. She was just the right size for me to lug everywhere I went. Evidently, I took very good care of her (I wasn’t as rough and tumble as my younger sister) because she still wears her original yellow calico dress and lacy apron.
About the time little girls get in school, it becomes important that they designate one of their fellow students as a boyfriend. I can remember in first grade we all competed for the attention of one dark eyed boy named Bobby. We all claimed he liked us best, though truth be told I’m sure he spent more time running from us than showing any of us his favor.
In the “tween” years, we begin to develop crushes. Being a child of the TV generation, my first celebrity idol was Ricky Nelson. He was the cuter of the two brothers, and oh, could he sing! Later, I became enamored with the Osmond brothers, and even traveled to Kansas City with my mom and sister to become part of the screaming, swooning crowd. Standing outside waiting to get in to the concert, someone spotted some young male figures standing in a hotel window several stories up. Everyone started waving, certain these boys would remember us when they got on stage. Most likely, we were duped by imposters, who always remembered the time they made thousands of girls act like complete fools.
When we’re old enough to seriously look for a mate, we search to find the handsome prince who is the perfect combination of all the things we’ve been dreaming of since the dress-up tea party days. He must be great looking, polite, funny, and hardworking enough to support us while we raise our perfect family. The goal here is to kiss as few frogs as possible along the way.
My Prince Charming had a little bit of a tough sell. Because my own parents had divorced when I was small, I was not going to be swept off by the first young knave riding up on a charging white steed, or even driving a blue-gray Dodge Challenger. I wanted to be sure the king of my castle would stick around to help me rear his future little lords and ladies. Getting acquainted with his family helped in this regard. To them, happily ever after was a foregone conclusion. We rode off into the sunset at a young age, and I’ve never looked back.
These days, as we look back on the busy days of bringing up three independent, totally unique children, it has become all about companionship. Of course, surprises like a special gift from the local jeweler, or a fancy gourmet supper carry some weight. But more importantly, sitting next to each other being mesmerized by meaningless television shows or arguing with the GPS as we explore new territory makes our joy complete. We’ve been there, done that, got a t-shirt or two, and treasure the thought of returning home with each other. Love is no less exciting, just more satisfying than ever.