Sometimes in the middle of the night, when the world is a little blurry around the edges, certain truths come into focus.
It’s 4:30 a.m. (or whatever) and my four-year-old suddenly leaps from my dreams into my bedroom. He stands beside the bed, clutching his blanket, one hand rubbing his tired eyes. Just enough light from outside seeps through the crooked window blinds so that, after I reach over and slide on my glasses, I can see the subtle shadow of a bruise around his left eye. A reminder of a tumble down the playground ladder a few days before.
“Hey bud,” I say. “What’s wrong?”
“Daddy, I want you.”
I reach out my hands and he folds his body into my arms. I swing him to the middle of the bed and he nestles in under the covers. He’s back to sleep in seconds.
I lie there with an arm draped across the pillow above his head, just staring at the ceiling for a moment as the paddles of the overhead fan spin slowly, casting pale shadows on the ceiling and tops of the walls.
Daddy, I want you.
How many more times will I hear those words from him? In the midst of the long and sometimes frustrating days, days filled with a seemingly endless stream of small and inconsequential battles, it’s easy to forget what it means to be wanted. It’s easy to forget how singularly wonderful it is.
And then I hear those words in the dark of night and suddenly getting back to sleep isn’t so easy because as I lie there, I can almost hear the clock ticking. How much longer until he’s too old to want me? Tick-tock. How much longer will I truly feel his need? Tick-tock.
Because, even though the days and nights often seem long, the months and years have a sneaky way of just slipping away. Yesterday he was falling asleep in my arms, today he is ready to start school. It’s miraculous and joyful and devastating.
Daddy, I want you
The problem is that parenting small children, existing with small children, is just so intense. Everything is so condensed. Maybe if I could spread it out over a life time, parcel out the round-the-clock need and responsibility a little at a time instead of packing it into a few short (or long) years, I would feel better. Instead, it feels like I’m running on a treadmill. The belt keeps racing faster and faster until my lungs burn and my legs ache as I try, in vain, to keep up. Finally, I have to grab the bars, set my feet down on the sides, and just look down, gasping for air, as the belt thunders around and around beneath me.
No matter how fast I run, I always feel like I’m coming up short. I feel like I should be doing more, doing better. Savoring the time and the moments more. Appreciating more. But instead, I’m always on the treadmill. Running as fast as I can, but never seeming to get anywhere. Or maybe some days I feel like I’m not going anywhere at all, when really I am. Is that how treadmills work?
Daddy, I want you
But now, I do the only thing I can. I lie in bed with my little boy next to me. Well, more like perpendicular to me: the top of his head poking into my ribcage. I watch the shadows dance around the room until they start to melt away, chased off by the first light of the rising sun. And I breathe.