But then 8:00 rolls around. Well, 8:30… 9:00 at the latest. Books are read, songs sung, lights turned off, night lights turned on, and these people who have spent their day in motion – running, arguing, discovering, tantrum-throwing – are still and silent. And while you love your kids all the time, obviously, it seems that with their volume turned down, your love is dialed up.
Like the other night, for instance, I crept into the room that Ceci and Alex share. Ceci had been tucked in a short time before, and I was now laying Alex down in her crib for the night. As I tiptoed toward the door, trying to make my escape as quietly as possible, Ceci shifted and groaned softly around the edges of her pacifier. Something about that moment hit me. I felt my love for her as an actual, physical pain deep in my belly, a fierce animal protectiveness: She’s amazing. She’s mine.
When Maggie, my oldest, was five or six days old I woke in the middle of the night in agony, unable to turn my head. It was my habit of staring at my newborn baby as she nursed that had caused my neck muscles to rebel, and the symbolism wasn’t lost on me. Watching over my child, it seemed, would never be easy or comfortable. Often it would hurt like hell. In those days, though, I had little else to do but look at her. In the following months we would hang out on the couch, me half-watching TV or half-grading papers or taking forty-five minutes to fold a basket of laundry while she reclined in her Boppy pillow. I would fold a pair of pants, take a picture of her. Locate the match to a sock, and then edge closer to examine her as she slept, the veins in her eyelids, her parted lips, her hands in tiny fists, prepared, even then, for a fight. She was my world. I couldn’t look away.
It’s harder now; my world has expanded. Distracted by my daily tasks, just trying to get everyone fed and bathed and changed, I find it difficult to look at my own children closely (that is, when they slow down long enough for me to catch a glimpse). At nighttime and nap times my fear of waking them almost always outweighs my desire to watch them dream – I mean, a run-in with an overtired Pray girl is like a scene straight out of The Walking Dead. It ain’t pretty.
But on occasion an opportunity will present itself. Maybe we were out late, and promised the kids we would sneak in for a kiss when we got home. Maybe Ceci is sick, and I need to check in on her during the night, or Maggie passes out in the middle of a book, even though she clearly isn’t tired. Just today Alex fell asleep on the bathroom floor while I ran her water for a bath and I left her there to finish her nap, because I think there’s some kind of adage about that.
I love my kids all the time, obviously. But sometimes, when they are still and silent, when their breath comes in sighs and their cheeks are pink with their own body heat, when the only thing they need from me is to let them be, I can feel my love swell, bigger than I even knew.
They are amazing. They are mine. Someday they are going to hate me for taking so many pictures of them sleeping, but for now they are… waking up?
Oh. They are their father’s. Forget everything I just said. They are totally his.