When Lexi was a toddler, I remember reading her a mountain of books in rotation, but her favorite by far was Guess How Much I Love You. She liked it so much because I would stretch out my arms as far as they would go, and I’d ask her if that was enough. After squealing with laughter watching my fake strain, she would always shake her head and say, “Daddy, you love me a lot more than that!”
As she got older she realized the inadequacies of the book even more. “How can you say love is only as big as two arms stretched out?” she would ask me. That’s when I realized she needed a much more concrete understanding of love, of just what love for a child, what love for your family, should be about. But I honestly had no clue of what I could do to show it instead of just saying it’s abstract until this morning.
Poppy George was hiding behind a giant tree when we walked outside to wait for the school bus, but the girls didn’t know it. He made some strange moose sounds, and we jumped for a second before realizing it was him…
Lexi: I knew it was Poppy George the whole time!
Me: Then how come you jumped?
Lexi: I didn’t want to make you feel dumb.
Me: Ohhhhh. Kay.
Lexi: Really dad! He never scared me!
Me: But what if it had been, like, a grizzly bear or something?
Lexi: Then I would have run away.
Me: I wouldn’t run.
Lexi: Why not? Then the grizzly bear would eat you!
Me: I would do it to save you and your sister. I would tell you to run, and I would throw myself at the bear to give you time to make it to safety.
Lexi: But then it would eat you.
Me: Not if I’m crafty enough, but it wouldn’t matter either way to me.
Lexi: You wouldn’t care if you died?!
Me: Well, yeah, I would care if I died, but I would care a lot more if you died.
Lexi: How come?
Me: Because I love you more than I love myself. That’s how it’s supposed to be with parents and children. You are our children, and we want the world for you. We don’t want you to ever have to experience pain, and if we can save you by sacrificing ourselves we would. And your mother would do the same.
Lexi: But then I would grow up without a father.
Me: But you would grow up. Which is the point.
Lexi: I would stand right here with you.
Me: Then my sacrifice would be for nothing.
Lexi: I still don’t understand what you mean.
Me: It’s… instinct, I guess. The instinct of a parent to protect its offspring. I wouldn’t even think about it. I would yell at you two to run, I would hope you did run, and I would take on the grizzly.
Lexi: So if you love me enough to take on a grizzly bear, then that’s real love?
Me: That’s how much I love you.
Lexi: Ooh, like that book! Yeah, a grizzly bear is a bit bigger than your arms stretched out.
Me: Just a bit.
Lexi: I still don’t want you to die, but that’s amazing, how much you love me and Maddie like that.
Me: That’s how parents are supposed to love their children. Don’t get me wrong. I would do everything I could to distract the grizzly bear without getting eaten. I want to be around for you as you grow up too.
Lexi: Then we would run when you told us to, but you’d better be faster than that grizzly bear!
Maddie: That grizzly bear!
Me: I’ll work on my outrunning bear skills.
Lexi: That’s a thing?
Me: Well, now it is.