Jamie Mayes, AOE

What My Toddler Taught Me about Love and Reciprocity

In Uncategorized on February 20, 2017 at 6:58 am

A few weeks ago, Lee3 and I arrived home after I had spent the day on the highway, and he had spent the day with his grandmother. It had been a tough few weeks for both of us. He was battling the misery of strep throat. I was trying to maintain work and travel while fretting over whether I made the right decision to go on my television interview while my son was still ill. My sleep was deprived, my body was teetering on exhaustion, and this night was no different from others. While I tried to pretend that work and woes were not getting the best of me, it seemed that my son could still tell his mama was tired. I dragged our things from the car, sat them on the floor in the living room, and then came to my bedroom. My son followed, saying very little as his little steps alternated with mine on the tile throughout the house. I sat on the side of the bed and reached for him. He came over to give me a hug and then got down from my lap, went to my small night stand, got my pajamas, laid them on the bed and said “There, Mama.”

“Aw, thank you baby,” I said and leaned down to kiss his cheek.

I sat a few moments longer trying to decide what our next steps would be and how take care of the night’s tasks as quickly as possible. On the night stand next to the bed were the small nail clippers I had used to trim his fingers and toes the night before. Lee3 reached for the clippers and examined them for a minute. I started to grab them from him, but decided there was no harm in letting him play for a minute. Besides, they were closed and I was sure he could not do anything with them. However, his little chubby fingers knew exactly how to open the clippers. I was intrigued, so I watched him. He grabbed my feet and started trying to clip my toe nails, as he had seen me do his so many times. I watched for a minute and then started laughing as his little fingers tickled the base of my feet. After a few minutes, I told him thank you and took the clippers away. He smiled and leaned in for some sugar. (A kiss.)

As I lay in bed later that night, I replayed that sweet moment in my head. My baby wanted to help his mama just as she helps him. He has watched my actions so closely that he knew I was sleepy, so I needed my pajamas. He saw the clippers and remembered that I had clipped his nails, so he wanted to do the same for me. My smile and kiss were the only approval he desired. My toddler son’s genuine act taught me a quick lesson about love and reciprocity.

So often, we spend our time and energy doing for and giving to others who do not give the same to us. We give our best because we love them, not because we expect anything in return. Yet, when we get nothing in return from those we love, we become frustrated and disappointed, questioning their love and loyalty. However, there comes a time when we must verbalize our expectations and require reciprocity. I thought about how young my son is, and how his desire was to do for me what I have done for him. He has seen the things I do for him, and as often as possible, he tries to do these same things for me- carry bags, help with dishes, help take out the trash, anything! If my two-year old can understand the art of giving and receiving, I had to ask myself why I often allow people to get away with not returning the same love I show them. Reciprocity does not mean that one is expecting others to give more than what is given to them; it is the expectation to at least give the same. This accounts for friendships, family-ships and romantic relationships.

This is not to imply that we should not invest in or bless others with no expectations. This is to suggest that we are to expect qualities like loyalty, commitment, honesty, truthfulness and sisterhood to be a two-way street, not a dead-end road. Therefore, when we seek to build relationships, we should seek relationships that require individuals to give and take, not give and give or take and take. In the end, the expectation of love and reciprocity is not about just about holding the ones we love accountable; it is also about maintaining self-balance through the reciprocal cycle of love. To remain emotionally and mentally healthy, we must always replenish what we put out with what we take in.

Yes, what seemed like a simple moment of sweetness between mother and son, became a deep moment of reflection, and subsequently, an opportunity to grow. I gave my son my love and he showed me his appreciation through reciprocity. If a two-year old gets it, can’t we get it, too?


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