I hike behind my eldest daughter, watching the two little Uglydolls, Wage and Babo, clipped to her pack. With each step she takes, they swing to and fro, sometimes flipping around to face me.
Madeleine calls back to me, continuing to hike, “Are Wage and Babo asleep?”
“Wage is awake, but Babo is asleep.” If the dolls are facing her pack, they are asleep, if they face out, they’re not. Madeleine pulls herself up a steep step on the trail, and Wage flips again. “No, wait,” I call, “they’re both asleep now.”
As she turns to follow a curve in the trail, a smile spreads across her profile.
There’s a part of me that thinks it’s silly that she wants to bring not one, but two, dolls with her on this two-night backpacking trip. Even though they’re small dolls, the weight adds up. As it is, she’s got about twenty pounds on her back, which is a lot for her small frame.
But as I continue further down the trail, and I think of who packed all the items in her backpack, I recognize the imprint of love left by Dan, who insists that each of our daughters bring a small comfort critter on each of our backpacking trips. He wants them to be happy. He wants all of us to be happy. And so, as he organized the things we’d need for this short trip into the desert, he did it all with love.
In Madeleine’s pack, she carries her own water and snacks, a super-light down bag, pad, and small pillow, as well as a bit of cozy clothing for the cool nights and mornings. Arden’s got the same. And of course, they both carry their own lovies, which aren’t necessary, but are essential. Essential, because in spite of their useless weight, they actually can make the trip a lighter experience.
And as I hike, I realize this is how men show love: by doing things that help make everyone else’s load lighter. This was an epiphany, but now I see it in all he does for us as the lone male in our household. Don’t get me wrong, feminist friends. As the mother of two daughters, you can bet that I am raising them to believe themselves capable of playing any role they desire. I want them to grow up knowing that they are the arbiters of their own happiness, that they are able to make the choices that will determine their best futures.
But there are most definitely differences between the sexes regarding motive and manner, purpose and process. And that’s ok. Women typically nurture; men not so much – in the typical way, that is. And men, I’ve noticed – it’s only taken me forty-plus years to figure this out – prefer to solve problems and complete tasks, and in doing those things, they are expressing love.
The problem at hand was how to get a somewhat reluctant hiker to a point where she could carry much of her own necessities and to do so happily. My solution usually included trying to lead her down the trail with motivating, nurturing words. It didn’t work very well.
But Dan figured out that something silly might keep her moving, and he was right. And everything he chose to place in her backpack was carefully selected, with her comfort and happiness in mind. If confronted with that, though, I can hear him give his variation of if the girls of the house ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
As we walk further, past saguaros and palo verde trees, Madeleine never loses pace, never loses hope. Wage and Babo bounce and flip, bounce and flip, with her easy gait. I smile and ponder the man I’ve loved for two decades, reflecting on love and its feather-light essence, keeping us all afloat, even in this desert land of little water.