By Diane Stark
“Is my secret word a fork?” Jordan asked.
“Yes! You got it! You won!” Both of his sisters yelled.
My children were sitting at the kitchen table, playing a game. They had taken a stack of index cards and written a secret word on each one. Without looking at the word on the card, they had to tape the card to their forehead. Then they took turns asking yes or no questions until they were able to guess the secret word on their card.
“OK, I know my word is an animal,” said Lea. “So does it fly?”
The other two nodded. I smiled and said, “It sounds like Lea is getting close.”
“I think I’ll figure it out in just a few more turns,” she said.
I nodded. “I’m sure you will, Honey.”
“Mommy, mine is really hard,” my youngest daughter Julia said. I nodded sympathetically. The poor girl didn’t stand a chance. Her siblings had to guess the words “fork” and “hawk.” The card on Julia’s forehead read “love.”
She’d already asked more than a dozen questions and each answer seemed to confuse her even more. I was just about to suggest that Julia choose a new card when she asked another question.
“Is it invisible?”
Lea and Jordan looked at one another, unsure of how to answer. They whispered for a moment and then deferred to me. “Mom, what do you think? Is the word on Julia’s card invisible?”
I paused. Is love invisible? For the sake of the game, it obviously was. “Well, yes, the word on Julia’s card is invisible,” I said. “We can’t see it in the same way we can see a concrete object like a fork or a bird.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” Julia said.
I tried to explain. “In the game, the word on your card is invisible. But in real life, it shouldn’t be.”
Poor Julia shook her head. “I still don’t get it.”
I looked at Jordan and Lea. “Can I help her? She’s never going to guess her word if I don’t.”
They agreed, and I said, “Julia, when I want to show you your word, I bake chocolate chip cookies or make your favorite dinner.”
Julia thought for a minute. “Is my word hungry?”
I smiled. “No, but that was a good try. If I wanted to show you your word, I might also play a game with you or maybe even buy you a present.”
“Ooh, is my word birthday?”
“Another good try. If you wanted to show me your word, you would give me a hug or a kiss.”
Julia’s eyes lit up. “Mommy, my word is love!”
I nodded and the kids clapped. Julia grinned and took a mock bow. Then Lea guessed her word and all three of them chose new cards.
But later, when the kids were finished with the game, Julia came to me, looking troubled. “Mommy, why did you say that love is invisible?”
“Well, because it’s not an actual object that we can see.”
“But love isn’t invisible,” she said. “In fact, I don’t think invisible love is love at all.” She folded her arms and added, “Love should never be invisible.”
I smiled and stroked her hair. “You’re right, Honey. Love should never be invisible.”
Over the next few days, Julia’s words ran through my head over and over again. Love should never be invisible.
I thought about my day and how I spent my time. Had I shown my love that day or had it been invisible?
Because I want to do the important things well – and because I am slightly neurotic – I decided to go straight to the source. I gathered the kids together and said, “You guys know that I love you, right?”
The kids looked at me strangely and then nodded.
“Well, someone,” I said and grinned at Julia, “reminded me that love should always be visible, so I am looking for more ways to show you guys that I love you.” When no one said anything, I said, “I’m taking suggestions.” I held up a pen and a notebook to show them that I was serious.
“Bake more brownies with us!” One kid said.
“Have a water balloon fight!” Another said.
“Play Monopoly every single day!” A third called out.
Soon I had a list of more than a dozen suggestions. Some were completely doable, and others, like the Monopoly thing, would take some tweaking. The surprising thing was how many of their suggestions involved food. Make popcorn and watch a movie. Help the kids make cookies. Take a picnic lunch to the park. Go out for ice cream cones.
Looking over the list, I worried that maybe food was overly important in our family. I didn’t want to create a “food equals love” mentality in my children.
While mixing cookie batter one afternoon, I voiced my concerns to the kids.
Once again, they looked at me like I was from Mars. “Yeah, a lot of our suggestions involve food,” Lea said, “but, Mom, all of them involve you spending time with us.”
Tears filled my eyes at her words. The popcorn and the brownies and the picnic lunches were fun, but they were just the icing on the cake. The most important ingredient was me.
It was a completely wonderful, but very humbling moment. Too many times, I’d put having a clean house ahead of playing with my kids. It was a common mistake, one countless older women had warned me about.
“Kids grow up so fast,” they said. “Enjoy them while they’re young.”
It was solid advice, but really difficult to follow. But somehow, hearing the same advice from my nine-year-old daughter made it easier.
Love should never be invisible.
I’m showing my kids I love them in a really visible way. Sometimes it involves cookies, sometimes popcorn and other times, a favorite dinner.
But I can’t forget that the most important ingredient is always my time and attention.
About this writer
- Diane Stark is a former teacher turned stay-at-home mom and freelance writer. Her work has been published in 16 Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, A Cup of Comfort for Christian Women and dozens of magazines. She loves to write about the important things in life: her family and her faith.