—What I like best is being with you.—
The hour was 10 p.m., long after the children’s bed times. I had come home late from city council meeting, and had settled into the sofa with cookies and cold milk, Grandma Lucille’s crocheted afghan over my lap, and a book of Sherlock Holmes mysteries in my hand. Finally, it was time for a little quiet enjoyment.
The phone rang in the other room, injecting me with adrenaline, and I swore under my breath at the jarring ringing so late in the evening. Angie was helping the baby fall asleep, or stay asleep, each of equal virtue. By the time I reached the phone, it had stopped ringing. Not recognizing the number on the caller ID, I did not call back, but returned to the couch.
I wrapped myself in the afghan and settled in again, with the handset nearby and its ringer turned down. Laura (5) suddenly stepped sleepy-eyed into the living room.
“I can’t sleep,” she complained. “The pillow is too scratchy.”
She had used a pillow with a cotton flannel pillowcase, not being able to find her own favorite pillow with the silky, pink pillowcase.
“I don’t know where it is, and you’ll just have to make do,” I told her.
She slinked bank to bed, dejected.
A paragraph into Dr. Watson’s first story, Erin (7) walked in with a smile and dobs of tri-colored toothpaste all over her face. Next came Brian (10) to show me the new socks his mother had bought him earlier that day, along with his latest Lego creation. I nodded and smiled stiffly to Brian, told Erin to wipe the toothpaste off her face, and ordered them gently off to bed.
In the middle of page three, John (3) cried out from his room. He had woken up hot and sweating. I ran up to his room, folded back the quilt, and rubbed his back to help him back to sleep.
In the second paragraph of page eight, Brian and Erin descended the stairs again for their ritual drinks of water. They really weren’t thirsty, they just wanted to prolong their day and avoid going to bed. As they came to me for their third good-night hug, I resisted a roar and instructed them to go to bed and not come down again.
At the end of page 11, Angie came down, released from her servitude to the fitful one-year-old Caleb. She leaned softly into me and began to talk about her day. Trying hard to listen to my wife, I still held the open book as a silent statement of my longing for quiet time alone and my intention to obtain it. I listened dutifully, allowing myself to be drawn into her narrative. She soon went off to bed.
Close to midnight, I finished the first Holmes story. Enough for one night. At least church didn’t start till 11:00 the next morning. Lying in bed, I remembered each child as they came to me and interrupted my time. I could see their innocent, loving faces and, despite my momentary annoyance, was glad that they had each come to me. I chuckled at the toothpaste polka-dots on Erin’s face; I sympathized with Laura for her scratchy pillowcase and with John for waking up hot and sweating; I admired Brian’s creation. How precious each child was to me.
The story I had read did not inspire me, and did not stay with me. But memory’s reflections of my children’s faces did stay with me. For some reason, having their lives rub up against mine can be irritating. I sometimes chafe at their questions, their stories of the day, their little hurts that no longer hurt or never really hurt in the first place. I misconstrue their approaches as demands for my time and energy, when in truth the children are coming to me to give, not to take.
In the weeks that followed, these reflections came back to me as I walked on Rabbit Lane. Words and music began to fall spontaneously into place and soon became the song, Remembering the Day:
What was your favorite part of the day?
I loved our picnic by the bay.
And what about the thunderstorm?
I’m glad you kept me safe and warm.
What I liked best was being with you.
Thanks for the day. I love you, too.
* * *
Caleb (10) had a habit of coming to find me wherever I was to tell me about every little hurt and owie he had acquired through his work and play. Sometimes he called me at the office to tell me he had bonked his head or scraped his toe. He always sounded so sad as he told me his story. I confess to having been often insensitive and impatient with these accounts of his little hurts. I could see that nothing was bleeding or broken. So I would grunt or nod distractedly or with annoyance, and he would walk away. But on the occasions when I listened to him and acknowledged his pain, he always brightened up, said “Thanks Dad,” and walked away cheerfully, no longer troubled.
As I am with so many things, I was slow to discover that all Caleb wanted was for someone to care, not by fixing his hurt but by listening to his heart. He wanted me to reassure him that I love him and that he matters to me. I am his father, after all. What more important service can a father offer to his son than to listen, to express sympathy, to show love—in short, to help the healing of inside hurts while the outside hurts heal themselves? Sure, I could tell him to be tough, to be a man, to stop crying; I could characterize his hurts as insignificant. But he would have plenty of time and occasion to toughen up. Life would do that to him on its own without any help from me. What Caleb needed from me was to buoy him up in his moment of need, so that when life did get tougher later, he would be sure enough of himself to ride the tide.