In the past week back home in Singapore, I struggled to explain to Dylan how much mommy and daddy loves him. He's a little young now to understand much of course, but it's hard to refrain from telling him anyway.
Sam McBratney, children's author, wrote a simple and beautiful story of expressive love in the book Guess How Much I Love You.
In the story, little Nutbrown Hare finds various ways of telling Big Nutbrown Hare how much he loves him. Finally, he settles on a clincher, saying "I love you all the way to the moon!". And Big Nutbrown Hare thinks to himself, and replies, "I love you all the way to the Moon and back!"
Years later, an Australian pop duo shamelessly pilfered the lines from this story to make a chart topper. The name of the song was To the Moon and Back, and they were called Savage Garden.
Anyway, I digress.
How does one express the full extent of one's love? ... is my research question for the week.
Developmentally, speaking to education psychologists like my roommate, S. from Madrid, children do not fully develop higher order emotions and concepts such as love and guilt until at least age 7 upwards.
(Hmmm... some people never fully do way into adulthood, but that's my opinion!)
Just from language development alone, kiddies taking part in one Sesame Street Children Television Workshop's research can't really define what love is beyond talking about it in concrete terms: it is heart-shaped, a smiley face, a mommy's hug (Fisch & Truglio, 2001, Ch4).
Doubly difficult is how little they understand of magnitudes, such as depth, width, and even age till much much later. (Famously, I remember my 17-year-old student describing my 31-year-old male colleague as being "middle-aged"!)
So we try to offer pithy explanations - how expensive our gifts are, the trouble grandma and grandpa went to just to get you something (so be grateful!), how much we are saving up every month and investing for your education (so be grateful!) etc.
But ideally, one fine morning I'd like to take Dylan out to East Coast park again, point him to container ships idling in the distant waters or the planes flying in, and say:
You know how far those ships and aeroplanes travel? (Yes, mommy, all around the world.)
And the world's a big ol' place, isn't it? (Yeah, mommy, it's big!)
Well, guess how much mommy and daddy loves you? (You bought me a boat and a plane, mommy?)
No, silly! We love you as long and as wide as how far those ships and aeroplanes travel!
But that's nothing compared to how much Jesus loves you.
For now, we'll just have to contend with hugs and cuddles, and lots of laughing and making funny faces to show the extent of our love. (From way over here, lots of laughing and funny faces and ridiculously dancing to Raffi's Bananaphone songs in front of my Skype camera will have to do.)