I recently made a cringe-worthy awful mistake in a comment on someone's blog. I didn't mean to upset anyone, but it left me feeling kind of sick.
Heather Spohr in her blog on Babble wrote a post about why she thinks it's fine to say she loves her children more than her husband. Apparently this was the hot button issue of the week since we are done being shocked by the 'Are You Mom Enough' Time magazine cover (which I hope has now gone the way of Tiger Mom and Octo-Mom and any other mom-centric craziness of the moment that people want to get worked up about).
Anyway, her argument was essentially that her love for her husband was conditional (based on whether he cheated on her or molested her children) but her love for her children was not. Personally I don't agree that love of children is unconditional, because if I had a psychopath for a child who killed others without remorse I would be sad and wounded about it forever, and probably not wildly and unreservedly in love with my kid anymore. And what if one of your children grew up to molest your grandchildren? This standard of whether or not to revoke love applies to spouses but not kids? (Extreme, I know, but my head goes to extreme examples to test rules.)
I was most struck by the absurdity of wanting to quantify love to begin with. Love for a spouse is so completely different from the love for a child that it's strange to even begin to compare the two. It seems like asking me if I'd rather have my hands or my eyes.
So, thinking of my own children, or of me and my brothers growing up, I commented that if love was quantifiable, would you feel comfortable saying you love one child more than another? Would you love the first more because you have more invested, or the youngest who happens to be more reciprocal with his or her love?
Well, not being a regular reader of Heather Spohr's, and somehow having missed a crucial bit on my first read through of her post, I didn't realize that her oldest child died three years ago, which she brought up in her reply. My stomach dropped. I hadn't meant to be insensitive. I was using 'you' in a general 'you' kind of sense, not her specifically. Just...ugh. I hope she accepts my apology because it's sincere.
But it got me thinking about why on earth are we even asking such questions to begin with? What purpose does it serve to speculate which loss would be greater or which person you love best? Why put ourselves through the anguish of a Sophie's Choice moment when no such choice is necessary? In a real crisis none of us knows what we would actually do anyway, so... Why?
I'm not saying that it's not an interesting exercise to examine the relationships in our lives periodically and see where things stand, but I honestly don't want to know where I stack up against my brothers or my husband or our kids or my parents. I can only think of one instance in my own life where such a question arose and it was painful.
I was spending the evening with my grandmother in her home in Ohio. It was a few years after college, that much I remember, but there was a timeless quality about visiting with my grandma that makes pinpointing dates fuzzy for me. I was alone with her in the family room, she was in her favorite chair, and I was on the floor near her feet. We were talking the way we always did about nothing and everything, and we wound our way to the topic of grandpa.
We'd talked plenty of times about how much she missed grandpa, but this was different. This time she talked about the many things that were hard about being alone, but claimed the hardest was not being the most special person in the world to someone anymore. She wept as she said, "I'm not number one to anybody now. I was number one to Tony, and when I lost him, I was no longer number one."
She cried for a long time, and I hugged her, and I couldn't think of anything to say. Because the horrible truth was she was right. If you looked at love in that manner there was nothing but a hole in her life that would never be repaired. I loved my grandmother dearly, but it would be wrong for me as a married woman with children to put her above all others in my life. She wouldn't want that, even if it was something I could give.
My mind raced around to all the relationships in our family, to see if I could single someone out to whom my grandmother could be number one again, but it was as if everyone had already been chosen for teams and my wonderful grandmother was left on the sidelines, unpicked.
But she was not unloved. Not by a long shot. My grandmother touched many lives and made a difference in this world. I loved my grandmother. I hated the idea that my love, or the love of the many people in her life, could be ranked, and that any of the love we had to offer could be seen as simply insufficient because it didn't compare to the love of my grandfather. I understood what she was saying, and she was entitled to her pain, and no, no other relationship was ever going to match the one she had with her husband. But there is more than one kind of love. I was her first grandchild. I know the love we shared was special to both of us. It was a completely different sort of relationship from the one she had with her husband. They shouldn't be compared, and I don't think they're meant to be.
It's a destructive process that allows us to take something as precious as love and quantify it for comparison. It leaves us diminished, not enlightened.
When I had Aden, I learned how deep love could be. When I had Mona, I realized love could be huge. When I had Quinn after suffering a couple of miscarriages, I knew not to take love for granted. Love is not a commodity. It is a gift. We should not be reckless with something so important.
I love my kids. I love my husband. I love my parents and my friends and my cousins and my brothers and my niece and my uncles and my aunts and so many others including my silly dog who barks too much. I'm not interested in ranking any of them. I can't live on one kind of love and be a whole person. There is a lot of love to go around without wasting time announcing who gets how much. Let's move on to a new game. This one serves no purpose and I'm not playing.