“I love you so much! I love you! I love you like I ever had a dog, or a cat! I LOVE YOU!!!”
I roared with laughter at this declaration of love from my 7-year old granddaughter, Katherine. No longer should we say 'I love you so much'; there is now a more profound way to express love. And, it can be amplified: 'I love you like I ever had 7 dogs and 5 cats!', for example.
Besides, 'I love you so much' is grammatically incorrect. There is no comparative or superlative to love, only degrees: an affinity for, liking, loving, revering, and adoring. Before I received that voice message from her, I would have said I adore that little girl; now I am on par with her: I love her at least 5 dogs and 5 cats. At least that much.
Fortunately, she sent her tidings via voice text, so that I can play it as often as I like, for as long as I own this phone.
It just so happened that, that day, I was expecting company. My guests had barely made themselves comfortable when I begged for their attention and played them Katherine's message. They too laughed to tears. And then, the inevitable “You must miss your family so much!”.
From my students' perspective – they, who actively miss their family and home life, it must seem like sheer insanity for me to have abandoned my little red-haired love in order to live on the other side of the world, year after year. As we prepared our dinner together, the conversation turned once again to how I could possibly live with what must be a huge hole in my heart that needs my family nearby to fill it.
Strangely enough, I do not actively miss my family. Do other expats feel the same way about their families?
What with all the technology available today, we can stay in close contact with our loved ones, can't we? At times, especially around the holidays, my family and I chat daily, and we constantly send pictures back and forth. I am with them on Christmas morning, when the children open their gifts, via video call. This supposedly lonely outpost of mine is not as it would have been one hundred years ago, when teachers and missionaries only had the solace of sparse, handwritten letters to relieve their longing for home.
For me, where is home? With one grandchild living on the west coast and the others living on the east, should I be living on the same continent as them, I would most likely only be in touch with them via voice call, and would probably only visit once a year, as I do now, living in China. Well, maybe I would visit more than once.
Still, living in China prohibits many family doings. I can't touch, hug, kiss or play with my grandchildren. There are no trips to Mema's (what my g-kids call me), and no sleepovers at my house. I'm not physically present for their birthdays or other siginificant milestones. Forget dance recitals and boy scout outings; I only get to hear about them.
And that means that we have to put special effort into our relationship.
Would she work so hard to find new ways of expressing her deep feeling if I lived next door? Would Katherine be aware that the world is such a big place were I to live in her immediate vicinity? Probably not. Even though I live exactly 12 time zones away from her, I am comforted to know I am in her thoughts, as she is in mine. I think of how remarkable it is for this little girl to be able to cultivate a long-distance relationship with someone who only appears once a year, and that makes me admire her even more.
So now I tell you: don't wait until Valentine's Day! Tell that special someone how many dogs and cats you love them right now. Go ahead: I dare you to!