Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
What Love Is

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Photo by Kate Ristau

It took me a long time to realize what love is. My idea grew with Disney movies, with The Dukes of Hazzard. With He-Man. How was I to know what it really looked like?

My parents divorced when I was in fourth grade. At first, I thought they didn't love each other anymore, but no—that wasn't right. They still loved each other, they just couldn't be with each other. So love could look like that—a tumble of hate and longing, clipped words and angry sighs.

It must have been hard with four teenagers, but my mom gave me everything I needed. She was there—she made everything okay, even when it wasn't. She worked two jobs and grumbled through the morning. She said "I love you" at night, and I did too, but that didn't seem like the kind of love everyone was talking about. It didn't make me want to sing in the rain or dance on the ceiling.

When did I realize I loved my husband? I don't know if I can tell you that. I know, one day, he said "I love you" as we said goodbye on the phone. It might have been an accident—something he says to his mom—not to me, but I said "love you too," and we were suddenly in it. Love.

We grew into it. I was waiting for a wedding—not hoping for one. I'd already given him all my time—the dream of it. It felt right. I missed him when he was gone and thrilled when he was there. That was love.

Plus, he brought me cookies, so we know that didn't hurt either.

By the time Rowan came along, love seemed too small—too everyday of a word. We were so wrapped up in it. He filled in all the empty spaces, then carved out more. He made us love each other in impossible ways. He made us piss each other off more too. We needed so much from each other—expected so much. It wasn't easy anymore.

I think that's because he opened us up—that's how I feel, at least. Cracked open and raw.

The day before Rowan's open-heart surgery, when they drew his blood, I held him on my lap. I talked him through the pain. I focused on the process, on what was happening. We acknowledged the shock—the prick and the sting—and then talked about the possibility of it all. The blood dripping into the tube.

"What are they doing with it?" he asked.

"They'll test it. See what it looks like inside." I took a deep breath. He did too.

"That's a lot of blood. Two tubes!"

"It really is. It doesn't hurt anymore though, right?"

"Right." He stares at the tubes filling up. 'What kind of medicine are they giving me?"

"They're not. It's the opposite. They're taking blood out instead of putting medicine in. The opposite of a shot."

"It doesn't hurt as much as a shot."

"That's good."

Then came the chest x-ray. I stood on the other side of the room, behind a little window. He looked so small. I wanted to pull him into me. To cover him up and keep him whole, to keep him safe.

He thought it was cool that he got a sticker.

We put his clothes back on him. We ate a lunch that was bigger than we needed like we were stocking up for the lean months with oatmeal, eggs, and broccoli with ranch. We'd brave the winter ahead with yogurt and potatoes and orange juice.

Then we went home to prepare for the next day.

But it didn't feel like home. Too much of the outside world was creeping in. As I packed his bag, and I washed his clothes, I wanted to close the door. Crawl into a pile of snuggle on the bed, and stay there. Warm. Safe.

My husband was on the way to the store for cookies when the nurse called. Rowan had failed his viral panel. "Adenovirus," she said. Most likely it was still in his system from his cold two weeks ago. "We can't do the surgery tomorrow. We'll have to reschedule."

For a moment, I was gloriously in control. We'd have to wait. My mom had come in from Illinois to help with a surgery that wasn't going to happen. We'd build spaceships instead. We'd eat pancakes.

But then my mind spun back to the edge.

A moment's release has led to weeks now on the brink, because we're waiting in a world where we flinch at every cough. Waiting in a world full of adenovirus. Waiting for another round of chest x-rays and blood draws. Waiting for the moment we have to say goodbye as they wheel him down the hall. Waiting.

And maybe that's what love is. It's willing to say, I'll wait. I'll give you my time. I'll stand on the edge or sit on your bed. I'll pack and unpack your bags—whatever you need, because you are worth all of me, plus everything in-between. All the time I have is yours to take—that's the gift I give you. My love is in the waiting.

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As I write this final note, Rowan is on his way into surgery. He has a suitcase full of packages, love letters, and valentines waiting to be opened, plus many more at home. We cannot say thank you enough. The love that readers have sent will bring him back to us—healthy, happy and strong. He's looking forward to opening every envelope, and we're looking forward to hearing him read your words. Thank you all for your support. Together, we are moving toward an Easter week full of chocolate bunnies and fuzzy snuggles.


Kate Ristau is the author of the middle grade series, Clockbreakers, and the young adult series, Shadow Girl. In her ideal world, magic and myth combine to create memorable stories with unforgettable characters. Until she finds that world, she’ll live in Oregon with her husband, her son, and her dog.


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Love is a lot of things isn't it. Thanks for writing. I enjoyed reading it and feeling......
Prayers for Rowan's recovery.
Hoping for good news of Rowan's recovery!
Prayers for Rowan and for your entire famiy during what has to be such a difficult time for all of you. God Bless!!!
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