How do we love? Eizabeth Barrett Browning lost count of the ways; the ancient Greeks made it four. Eros, or romantic love, is the kind we in the contemporary West write bestselling novels and platinum-certified ballads about; but your typical Greek would distinguish this from Storge (στοργή if you’re being flash), the love between parents and children. I knew this, for years, in a pub-trivia sort of way, but until a few short months ago I don’t think I had the faintest idea what the Greeks were on about.
I hope my own family won’t mind me saying that – prior to making an offspring of my own – I thought that Storge must refer to a sort of warm, platonic affection, the kind one might have for a longstanding pal or perhaps a favourite pet. I never expected to be blindsided by the kind of all-consuming, crazy-making love that Hollywood blockbusters seem to reserve for consenting adults. Of course I expected to love my daughter; I didn’t know that would mean falling madly in love with her.
I love waking up in the morning to smiles and cuddles. I love snuggling up for a feed at night. I love it when her tiny hand finds mine. I love making her giggle by nibbling her tiny toes. I love her increasing vocalisations, which sometimes come with surprise bubble-blowing variants. I love gazing into her big, blue eyes and kissing her little nose. I love how easily she smiles her big smile; I even love being able to comfort her when she’s upset, even if that involves a bit of her being upset first. I’ve mentioned before that I can be in desperate need of a bath/leg-stretch/adult socialisation/work meeting/sanity break, and yet miss her profoundly the moment I walk out the door or just get in the bath. I feel that sense of slight addiction we associate with new love, like I don’t want to blink in case I miss her for an instant.
Being extremely nuts about a tiny human being clearly has its evolutionary advantages. It means that when your newborn wakes up screaming in the night for the fifth time in a row, your strongest urge is to comfort and protect her rather than, say, murder her. It’s probably at these times that Storge comes into its own – loving a happy, smiling, gurgling baby doing something cute with her nose or her toes or her favourite cuddly toy is easy. Loving an angry, purple object with a screwed-up face wailing at a volume that belies the size of the tiny lungs beneath is necessary for the survival of the species. But more than that, it’s surprising how fiercely that love flows, even in the trying times. Everyone loves Scarlett when she smiles one of her huge, bright smiles. I can honestly say I still love her when she’s grumpy at 4am, despite how little I love it being 4am.
Love makes us do crazy things. Love makes us cry great salty tears when the nurse sticks vaccination needles in her sweet little thigh; love makes us anxiously imagine dreadful scenarios in which she’s hurt or lost; love makes us watch her happily for hours as she sleeps; love makes us say idiotic things to her all day long, which can’t even be blamed on sleep deprivation these days. I just said one while typing this. That was true, I didn’t just type that for comic effect. I love her to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach; and if she loves me back even half as much I think I shall be quite happy.