As an education researcher and a parent, I thought I knew everything about child development. My wife and I do our best to follow the experts’ advice when conflict arise: we keep our tone measured and objective; we wrap constructive criticism inside an “Oreo” of positive affirmations; we model active listening. We know about love and logic and whole brains and how to create the happiest kid on our suburban block.
But we needed our kids to teach us about hove.
When coronavirus closed our public schools in March, my wife and I felt cautiously optimistic about our homeschooling cred. We would simply apply our hard-earned wisdom to the new situation, applying thoughtful problem-solving in the event a conflict might arise.
One morning, several weeks into our quarantine, I’d set our two girls up for success. Our 10-year old, Nina, sat quietly at the kitchen table, diligently working on an online math lesson. Lilah, our 7-year old, was curled up on the couch reading the latest book in her favorite series, The Never Girls. I was about to take a Zoom call for work. Before I went to my office upstairs, I prepped the girls on how to successfully problem-solve in the unlikely event of a conflict: Express your feelings in ‘I’ statements. Keep in mind what the other person might be feeling. If your emotions get the best of you, simply count backwards from 10 to 1.
Satisfied that our house was in a state of perfect harmony, I left to take my call.
Ten minutes later, I heard a familiar sound permeate my noise-cancelling headphones. It was the girls screaming at each other at the top of their lungs, followed by something crashing on the floor, and then more screaming.
Normally, I’d rush downstairs and intervene. I would model conflict management, sitting my down children and encouraging them to express themselves in kind and thoughtful words.
Only this time, I was at work. I had remain on my call, leaving the girls to wreak whatever destruction they would.
When my call ended, I turned off my headphones, expecting to hear arguing, or sobbing, or some other form of sororal discord. But I heard nothing. The house was eerily quiet: no screaming, no smashing.
I walked downstairs to see if, given the absence of chaos, the girls were indeed still alive. Not only were they living and breathing, they were working together, huddled on the floor on some new project.
With a red magic marker, Lilah applied some finishing touches, then moved aside to reveal a large piece of construction paper. Across the top, the words “HOVE BOARD” were written in block letters. Below that were two columns, one for Nina and one for Lilah, along with little pieces of paper scotch-taped to the bottom. Some of these were written in green marker and said “I love Nina” or “I love Lilah.” Others, written in red marker, said “I hate Nina” or “I hate Lilah”.
“It’s a hove board,” Nina explained. “’‘Hove’ combines love and hate. When I love Lilah, I put an ‘I love Lilah’ paper on the board.
“But when she hates me,” Lilah added, “she puts up an ‘I hate Lilah” paper. “I do the same for her.”
My initial instinct was to step in and tell my kids why this was all wrong. In our house, we do not hate. We only love. We’re all afraid of the word ‘hate’ for good reasons; we associate it with bigotry, injustice, and pernicious resentment. I’m primed to tell my kids that the very experience of hate is wrong, and that every human needs to be fully embraced at every moment.
But then it occurred to me that maybe hove wasn’t such a bad concept after all.
To my kids, hate means something different than it does for grown-ups, but it’s just as real. Their hate is the hate of broccoli, of long division, the hate you scream at your mom when she makes you clean your room. It is a tornado of exasperation and frustration and powerlessness.
Their love is just as intense — the love of mangoes and Santa and the bedraggled, misshapen stuffed animal they’ve carted around since birth.
The mix of these two emotions is hove. Hove is the way you feel towards your sister when you’ve been stuck in a quarantine with her for four weeks; when in a fit of rage she tears the cover off your new book and then writes you an apology note in her wobbly second-grade script; when she leaves her dirty clothes all over the floor of your shared room but laughs uproariously when you make fart noises. Hove is the knowledge that you are trapped with the only person in the world who has to endure the same parents you do.
Hove is how we all feel about whomever we are quarantined with just about now. We love them, and, yes, we hate them, for the simple crime of being humans stuck in the same compressed space we are. Hove is natural and normal. It means we cannot always express every sentiment in perfectly measured tones, and that we can be enchanted and exasperated by someone at the same time.
After my tour of the hove board, I came back up to my desk to get back to my workday. One of my little angels had carelessly left a napkin full of ice cubes on top of my file stacker, ruining the Father’s Day card she’d so thoughtfully written me last year.
I realize at that point how much I truly, truly hove my kids, just as they hove me.