RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
When was the last time a kid in your life said something that just got you in your gut? I bet it wasn't that long ago - a well-placed I love you in the middle of a stressful day, an unsolicited hug when you needed one most. We are in that season. And, yes, we can all agree Valentine's Day is a commercial holiday. I know. But it is also a great excuse to talk about how we nurture those around us, how we connect with others and how we love.
And as our friend, poet and parent Kwame Alexander knows very well, kids are often way better at expressing love and openness than the rest of us. He is in our studios in Washington. Hi, Kwame.
KWAME ALEXANDER: Hey there, Rachel.
MARTIN: So you got two daughters.
MARTIN: I imagine you have learned some things about loving and nurturing from them.
ALEXANDER: I have learned that love is sometimes the only thing that will keep you sane...
ALEXANDER: ...That keeps me smiling even when I don't feel like it. You've got kids, so you know what I'm talking about.
MARTIN: Absolutely. It is the best medicine.
ALEXANDER: It's actually oxytocin. That's what it is (laughter).
MARTIN: (Laughter) Right. Like a chemical reaction. It goes to your brain. It makes you feel good.
ALEXANDER: It's those moments that when our kids challenge us. It kicks in that we do actually love them. Last week, I was having a little too harsh, I guess, talking-to with my 10-year-old. And, well, she was getting an earful for, like, 10, 15 minutes about honesty and my disappointment regarding a decision she had made. And she just starts bawling.
And so I hug her, and I just tell her, look, I love you. I love you. And part of my job as a parent is to help you become good, is to help you become a kind, happy and loving adult. And I'm just saying this over and over to her. And she's looking at me like, really? It doesn't feel like that (laughter).
MARTIN: Right. I don't feel good.
ALEXANDER: And that's when I remembered this poem.
MARTIN: Of course you did because you're you.
ALEXANDER: (Laughter) I mean, I didn't recite it.
MARTIN: OK, good.
ALEXANDER: But it felt like it would have been the perfect poem for that moment.
ALEXANDER: So this is for the parents listening when your kids question whether you love them. It's called "Resignation" by Nikki Giovanni. And here's a few excerpts. I love you because the earth turns round the sun, because the north wind blows north sometimes, because the winters flow into springs and the air clears after a storm, because only my love for you, despite the charms of gravity, keeps me from falling off this Earth into another dimension. I love you more than I love my privacy, my freedom, my commitments and responsibilities. I love you because I changed my life to love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.
MARTIN: That's it. That's everything.
ALEXANDER: It's that unexplainable, unconditional love. And it's simply a beautiful thing. I mean, we know how to love our children with kindness and patience and always giving them the benefit of the doubt. We don't take things too personally. Loving our children can really be a model, Rachel, for loving ourselves and each other. Everything we ever need to know about love, we learn from our kids.
MARTIN: For sure. So the next time we talk to you, it's going to be Valentine's Day. And so we want to hear from kids, children, about what love is to them, how they think about it, and use that as a way to remind all of us what's really important in our own relationships in the way that we connect with each other.
ALEXANDER: Yeah. So teachers out there from kindergarten to 12th grade, we would like you to do this activity with your students. Give them the prompt, love is, and let them just go for it. Fill in the blank. Write a line or a whole poem. For example, Rachel, if I were to say...
MARTIN: Oh, you're doing this to me again?
ALEXANDER: Here we go.
ALEXANDER: So fill in the blank.
ALEXANDER: Love is...
MARTIN: Love is vulnerability.
ALEXANDER: Love is...
MARTIN: Love is scary.
ALEXANDER: Right. Now end it. Give me that clincher. Give me that final phrase. Give me a couple words. Love is - bring it home for me.
MARTIN: It is the only thing. Does that work?
ALEXANDER: That's perfect.
MARTIN: OK, good (laughter).
ALEXANDER: That's a great line (laughter).
MARTIN: All right. So we want to hear you give it your shot. Record your students reciting their entry. What is love to you? And then we're going to share some of these entries on Valentine's Day. You can do this at npr.org/morningpoem. That's where you want to share your students' love is lines and their poems. Again, npr.org/morningpoem. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate Valentine's Day than to read those submissions. Having said that, you got another love poem to share for us?
ALEXANDER: I'll share a final love is poem. Love is the way I feel when your laugh dances across the room of my memory. Love is doing the dishes even when you don't feel like it. Love is you, you, you, you, you, you, then everything else.
ALEXANDER: Rachel, love is friendship and art. And this canvas called life can be vast and lonesome without a full heart to trust, without a joyful noise to share, without you, without love.
MARTIN: That is a beautiful thing. Kwame Alexander, thank you so much, my friend.
ALEXANDER: Thank you.