Rachel Kramer Bussel
love you," I recently said to someone I'd only met two hours
before. I said it in a baby voice, followed by lots of air kisses
directly in her face, those three simple but potent words falling
easily from my lips as I looked down at her round cheeks and wispy
hair, the length of our acquaintance irrelevant to the strength
of my emotions.
I mean it? In the case of Frankie, an adorable 6-month-old, who
had spent the previous two hours wailing every time she looked my
way, yes, I did -- at least, I thought so. It startled me to realize
how I had fallen for her as I'd watched her squirm in her cute onesie,
tan pants, and little socks, burrowing in close to her mom or dad
whenever I dared to look her way. I didn't plan to say it, or think
it, or feel it, but there it was.
she finally let me hold her, she felt so perfect in my arms; not
so heavy that I felt scared of dropping her, not so light that I'd
worry about her not breathing. Maybe it was my words, or the way
I held her, walking around and cooing, showing her the sights of
her brother's bedroom, but she calmed down for a few moments, enough
to let me bask in her presence and stare into her sweet little face
when I wasn't bombarding her with kissy noises. In this instance,
I not only wore my heart on my sleeve, I wore it in the equivalent
of blaring, fluorescent lighting, so nobody, least of all me, could
miss it. My overt display of passion was as much for my own sake
as Frankie's. I needed her to know the depth of my feelings
much more than she needed anything at all from me.
"I love you" to my one-year-old cousin Adam all the time.
I make sure to say it loudly, so he knows that I mean it with all
my heart, which I do. I want him to know that I'm someone he can
come to at any time; that I'm reliable, that I am safe and secure,
especially if his parents aren't around. From the moment he was
born, and perhaps even before then, I felt waves of emotion welling
up in me, as if just waiting for a person to unleash them upon,
though the time I've spent with him over his first year has permanently
cemented that bond. I've tried to visit him at least once a week,
and even went on vacation to Puerto Rico with him and his parents.
Seeing him smile, having him grab my necklace, or offer me his sodden
bagel, fills me with something that feels like more than love, something
indescribable. I can only imagine it's a minute fraction of what
parents feel for their kids. Is it because he's my cousin? Because
he's small and pretty much helpless? Is it selfish to be so elated
by his simple smile, to love him when in truth I hardly know him
yet? And what about strangers' babies? I was slightly conflicted
over whether "loving" Frankie was the right thing to say,
or do. Her parents are friends, ones I admire and adore greatly,
but love? I wouldn't quite say that. So can I love her and not her
parents? I feel like a scrooge for even asking.
I left their apartment, I had to face the fact that when it comes
to babies, I'm easy, and it's not just because I long for one of
my own as, at 31, I hear my biological clock blaring its ultra-loud
alarm at me morning, noon, and stroller-filled night. I have what
I call the "wall of babies" on my cubicle at work -- at
porn magazine Penthouse Variations; most are the children
of friends or family members, though one is a clipping from the
newspaper of a yawning newborn named Dio who I deemed too cute to
be banished to the recycling bin. Do I love him? No, but my heart
flip-flops just a little when I see his photo.
adults I love them is trickier, even when it's true. Sometimes I
worry that my heart is too big, too wide open, allowing those who
surely don't deserve it entrance, but I never feel such qualms around
kids. They make me feel like I have "un corazon grande,"
as I recently told my new boyfriend about his own heart, one that's
capable of much more than I often give it credit for. When babies
draw that love out of me, they make me want to be a better person
for them, so I can be someone who deserves to love them so strongly.
Frankie I loved her made me think about the meaning of the word,
one some of us toss around so lightly and others withhold forever.
Babies are easy to "love" because aside from screaming
and pooping, there's little they can do that could be deemed annoying.
But is loving someone really just about finding them "not annoying"?
I hope not. In fact, I know when people love me by how willing they
are to verge on the point of annoyance, to risk my anger by telling
me something I probably don't want to hear.
the other hand, sometimes I say "I love you" to people
when I don't really mean it. It's easier than launching into a complicated
explanation of what I really feel. Take my grandmother's husband,
for instance, who barreled into our family in 1991 and expected
it to immediately revolve around him, as the oldest and richest.
To me, family is about give and take, about loving people even when
we find them infuriating . . . because we know they would do anything
for us. I'll sign cards to both of them with a half-hearted "Love,"
scrawled as illegibly as I can manage, but the sentiment never truly
reaches past my outer layer of skin. You don't just get that status
for doing nothing.
you're a baby. To me, babies, whoever they are, are like family.
My cousin Bess, Adam's mom, says that babies are closer to G-d.
I don't know if I believe that, and it gets tricky when I try to
pinpoint at exactly what age they drift away from G-d, and stop
being completely cute, and the "I love you's" don't come
as quickly or spontaneously. But I do think there is something about
their wide-eyed innocence that makes me, at least, want to offer
them a little piece of myself, and maybe in exchange get back a
little of their wondrous, unclouded vision.
it's "right" or not, I want to love Frankie. I want to
love all the babies who are in my life, even if they just live on
the baby wall and largely in my imagination. Maybe, on some level,
they are easier to love, to become completely smitten with, than
adults with all our baggage and personality and miscommunication.
Don't get me wrong -- I'm fiercely loyal to those I love, and they
are many. But nothing makes me feel as special, as loving and loved,
as holding a child like Frankie. So would I say it again? Would
I tell her those three little words, even if they sound somewhat
grandiose, almost boastful? Even if I can't say them as boldly (or
at all) to her parents? Yes, I would, in an instant, because they
couldn't be truer.
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