My son, Jax, spent last Friday night at his dad’s house. On Saturday morning, I waited for my ex-husband’s big, white, cowboy of a truck, and opened my front door to greet my son as the truck pulled into my driveway. It was February 13th, the day before Valentine’s Day, and even from my place leaning against the open front door, I could see Jax’s excitement. His messy-haired head was bouncing up and down in the back seat and he jumped out of the truck the instant it stopped.
Jax had a box in his hands. It was covered in silver glitter and red and pink felt hearts, and he held it close to his chest, protecting it, as he ran to me with a huge smile. He straightened his arms, still holding the box in both of his hands, and presented the gift before me. It was an inexpensive cardboard box, but I could tell he was handing me his whole and entire heart.
This kid loves Valentine’s Day. He loves to love.
I’m proud of this, and I’ve taken the bulk of the credit for it. When he came home from China without the ability to speak and without any English, I taught him the sign for I Love You right off the bat. Over the years, I have made up silly little songs about a crazy mom who loves a crazy little boy, read heartfelt stories aloud to him, and created comforting spoken rituals. I have blanketed him every step of the way with love words, and now, Jax can verbally express his love with meaning and ease.
My ex-husband, on the other hand, is a quiet man, a private man. He does not fill his space with words, and because of this, I have taken credit for my son’s ability to express his heart.
But Jax stood before me presenting his gift in his outstretched arms and he didn’t say a word. The love was palpable, I physically felt it, but it was silent.
I didn’t teach him this.
The glittery silver box had three bars of lavender soap in it. I love soap, it’s a thing. Jax told me that he and his dad were getting new shoes at the mall and on their way out of the Vans store, Jax saw a store across the way with soap in the window.
I wasn’t there, but I can picture it. “Dad! Let’s get Mom some soap for Valentine’s Day!”
In other words, in grown-up words, “Dad, on this Valentine’s Day, a day that reminds you of a failed marriage and broken promises and words that can’t be taken back, on this day, can you please buy a gift for your ex-wife? Can you take me into a real-life reminder of the happy couple you used to be, surrounded by the memories of what you both swore to do, but didn’t? Please, Dad?”
He could have said no. He could have said let’s make your mom a card, let’s do something that is more comfortable for me and requires less of my involvement. Instead, in his Wranglers, button-down shirt and Stetson, he took his son by the hand, and without wasting any words, walked into a perfumed and feminine frenzy of over-the-top sentiments about love, and helped his son pick out a Valentine’s present for the woman he used to be married to.
Life lessons come at strange times. This one came on Valentine’s Day, a year after my divorce, and packaged with three bars of soap. It came quietly and without any words.
I, alone, did not teach my son to love. I only did it louder.