I remember the first time I saw the ocean. It was right here in Huntington Beach, I was five years old, my recently widowed mother had driven our family across the desert from Idaho to California in our un-air conditioned Chevy Malibu to take us to the beach. I remember the way the water just stretched on forever with not a hill, house, or tree to break the expanse. How exciting and terrifying that felt–all that foreverness– and how it made me feel very small and very complete all at once. This is the only experience I have that feels the same as love.
I first learned love for myself from my mother. The compliments she gave freely—on my writing, my eyebrows, my waist, my smile. They are things I continue to love about myself to this day. As kind as she was, she was easy to love in return, as if I had never known any differently.
Then came that love for my first boyfriend. A love that felt outside myself, crazy and new, like I wanted to be with him all the time but would wait forever for him, too. It was all butterflies and the thrill of anticipation. It was the same love I felt years later for the man I would marry. A type of love that would mellow into what we know lasts, an enduring love that is as much about the other person as it is about yourself. A love that gets you through the days of too much work and not enough money and dirty dishes and breaking cars. A love that is your soft place to land. A love that feels, like the ocean, endless, that is abundantly passed onto your children who are an extension of that love.
After my divorce thirteen years later, sudden and entirely unexpected, I spent a dark period wondering if I ever knew what love was to begin with. Coupled with some serious health issues I had with two of my children, I felt acutely what a huge risk love is. For as much as we put into it, it can take away as much. It can hurt. Oh, can it hurt. From that point, love had to be a choice I actively made, knowing the risks but deciding the rewards were worth it. I also had to learn to re-love myself during that time. After trusting, naturally, so much of my worth to the care of my husband and feeling it end with our marriage, I had to return to that shell of love my mother first gave me: I have nice eyebrows. I have a nice waist. I have a nice smile. I can write. I’m going to be ok…
Love did return. For myself. For my life. It stretched abundantly back into my dear children. It stretched into new friendships. It even grew to allow me to forgive my ex-husband, whether he wanted it or not. And then, five years later, it was ready to try again as I spoke those words, “I love you” to the man I couldn’t imagine living without. Lucky me, he loved me, too. He loved my children. I loved his. We were both scared, but the love wouldn’t let us back away. It reminded us both of all that could go wrong. And all that could go ever so right. So, we got married!
After two years of marriage, we have learned to be careful to feed our love with time, patience, and trust. We know the numbers are stacked against second marriages and blended families, but we are committed. We make a point to befriend and learn from successful blended families we admire, ones that are doing it so right you hardly know that they haven’t been together all along. It is encouraging to hear from their experience and how they overcame hiccups in the road.
We are happy that our kids like each other and have strong friendships (arguments and all), and as for them loving each other—we’re fine waiting for life to build that emotion with time. My husband still gives me time to spend with just my children, and I with his, and we make a point to do a lot of activities as a family. We are also cautious of the love our children feel for our ex-spouses and would never do anything to harm that.
The other day my ten year old asked me, “Mom, why are all the songs I hear on the radio always about love, love love?!” Well, there’s a reason: It makes the world go round. It makes the world fall apart. It makes you want to squeal with joy and cry in agony. It goes on and on, but only if you let it. Things I can’t explain to him now when I can hardly explain his math homework. He’ll learn all about the complexities of love eventually. For now, he knows he loves me and Minecraft and big spoonfuls of Nutella. He covers his eyes during kissing scenes in movies. When the time is right, when some girl has caught his heart, I’ll take him to the ocean and we’ll stand on the shore, waves wrinkling around our ankles, the sunlight in our face, and we will just stare out until I know he’s feeling it too.