You’re scooping up small handful-sized piles of leaves and throwing them in the air above your head. As they rain down around you, getting caught in your long strawberry blonde curls and on the edges of the fairy wings strapped to your back, you laugh. Head thrown back, eyes shut tight, full-bodied giggles erupting from you.
Until he runs by, plants a sloppy, too-much-candy-sticky kiss on your soft cheek and your little-girl smile instantly morphs into a scowl – nose scrunched up, lips pursed out, eyebrows drawn together – and you look so much like your mother in this moment that I laugh. “Ugh, Aunt Blair, get it OFF!” you squeal, marching toward me with fists clenched at your sides, only growing more irritated when you see me smiling at you. “It isn’t funny, Aunt Blair. It is GROSS.” And then furiously scrubbing at your candy-kissed cheek you say the one thing that makes it impossible not to love you. “Boys are so gross.”
We play in the leaves all day long, dancing through the falling colors and giggling – boys and sticky kisses long forgotten – until autumn’s short days catch up with us and we collapse in the yard in exhaustion.
“Aunt Blair,” you say, still absent-mindedly rubbing at that spot on your cheek, “I’m not ever going to love boys. Love is so silly.” I will never for the life of me figure out where you come up with these things, or how you manage to translate the thoughts of half of the population of the planet into completely sensical, concise, three-year-old thoughts.
“Oh yeah?” I say, turning my head to face you laying next to me. “How much you want to bet that you’ll be singing a very different tune in about 10 years time?” For your dad’s sake, I pray it’s longer.
“Nope. Not never,” you swear and giggle as you take a handful of leaves and toss them in my face, then jump up and take off running across the yard.
I catch you, of course. I always catch you. But I also always give you the thrill of a head start.
You’re wrong, you know. About the love stuff. Your life is already bursting at the seams with happily-handed-over love.
Your mother pours it into every moment of your day, even the sleeping ones … especially the sleeping ones. It’s in every meal she makes, every load of laundry she folds. Every new pair of shoes she buys you because we all know you’ll have the same addiction to accessories when you grow up as she does. It’s in the miles she’ll drive you and your friends, the nights she’ll spend listening to your problems, the cards she’ll send in the mail to your grown up apartment just to tell you she misses you.
Your father tucks it into every stern talking to you get when you’re a little too sassy for a three-year-old girl. Truth be told, he’s just terrified of what you’re going to be like at 13. And at 23. It’s in every secret gift he slips in your room when you’re not looking, every extra few dollars he gives you when you swear you don’t need it. In every time he tells you it’s going to be OK when you call him crying from your home three hours away – those times when you think he’ll be disappointed, when you think he’ll yell and scream, and he surprises you by simply listening to you cry. He will yell and scream later. But there’s love in that too.
Your brother and sister hide it under every pillow fort you build in the living room, in every secret you pinky promise you’ll never, ever tell, in every late-night phone call that will never go unanswered. Your brothers and sisters, whether by blood or circumstance, will love you even though they don’t have to. They will love you because you’re funny and because you see the joy in even the darkest circumstances. They will be there with hugs or drinks or bonfires or a moving van at the drop of a hat. They will be there to watch your children grow up.
And one day, even though you swear now that it will never happen, there will be a boy – who wil smell exactly like a teenage boy, all sunlight and sweat and clay-dirt and cut grass and leafy green – who will hear your laughter as a question that he wants to spend his whole life answering. He will love you even though you use your oven to store sweaters and shoes. Even though you make crumbs and leave half-full cans of Diet Coke all over his bedroom (which you’ll never tell your father you were ever in). Even though you insisted on buying $200 flatware just to eat take out.
Your fairy wings flutter in the wind behind you as your run, leaves dance in the path you weave. I’ve given up chasing you and instead just watch you run. One day, you will go looking for that love you say you don’t want. And you’ll never find it – it will find you first. Like looking for a seed when an entire damn field has blossomed while you’ve been turned around, it will find you.
It won’t be so silly then.