There are times I have no idea what is going through my kids’ heads. I really don’t. I wish I did, after all, I’m their Dad, I want to make sure they’re OK, that they’re happy, that they’re not depressed. I want to make sure they don’t have to go through what I’ve been through, even though there’s no choice in the matter. They’re going through it anyway. They go on with their lives in much of the same way I do. They wake up every morning, they remember to get dressed, eat their breakfast, move on with their day, and do nothing more than that.
But I also see the little things that creep in, the little pieces of heartbreak that hurt me just as much, but make me smile and I feel guilty for liking them so much.
If you’re confused, I think this example will help you. First, there’s Sam, who I’ve mentioned before is the family’s version of Hector Protector. Sam always needs to know where we are, at all times, and thinks that if we’re not around things will be really terrible. When he’s upstairs in his room reading or in his little play area playing Nintendo, he periodically comes to the banister and shouts: “Hey Dad!”
Abbi is her mother’s daughter. She worries. Where I was sick the last few days, all through New Year’s she protected me. She took the kids on a walk or up to the bedroom when I fell asleep from lack of energy . She yelled at me for making dinner when I didn’t have energy to walk across the street. She made snide comments when the kids asked “what are you doing Dad?” “He’s getting himself sicker, that’s what!” was Abbi’s response.
Hannah is just the little love. She’s not little, nor is she small, she’s 5 foot 5 and growing like a weed but still acts very much the 12-year-old. She comes over at the most inconvenient times and hugs me, whether I want her to or not. She’s exasperating, confusing and just plain lazy sometimes but she’s the sweetest child on the planet.
Then there’s Noah. Noah was the subject of much disciplinary chicanery. He craves to be the center of attention, but he’s also the philosopher who told me “Moms have the biggest part of our hearts because without Moms there wouldn’t be any more people so Mommy lives in a big part of my heart” on the day his Mommy died. He can be excruciatingly annoying and amazingly sweet.
But with Noah I started to notice something I hadn’t realized even the months before. Noah gets up before I do. It’s not that this was uncommon, he likes to be the early bird, but this is different. Just yesterday morning I realized that it’s not to be up and doing something. He’s not like his Mom, hating to be left out. He wants to make sure I’m there. I woke up to find him lying on the couch, half awake, lord knows how long he’d been there. He was waiting for me.
He wants to make sure I am there every morning. Just in case.
I get it, I really do. If you wake up in the morning, like I do, you think things are like they’d always been until you realize you’re in a different house and you’re alone again. He sees his Mom in his dreams. He prays to her to help him to be better in school. She, as he so duly noted, lives in the biggest part of her heart. I can see for the first time that he isn’t getting up in order to annoy me or be the first one up or be the center of attention. He’s awake because he wants to make sure he sees me, to know I’m there, to get comfort from the fact that, unlike his mother, I see him before I leave and I see him when I get home. He makes sure he’s there when I come in the door from work as well.
I got the final confirmation of this hypothesis when we went to see the movie “The Adventures of Tin Tin”. Noah had been dying to see it but we chose the busiest day of the year to go. I left the kids off, gave Abbi my card and had her wait for me while Hannah and the boys got us seats. Parking took forever, as did concessions, so I entered the theater 5 minutes into the previews. I got to the side of the theater where the kids were seated and Noah was in a panic.
“He’s been so worried, Dad!”
“Worried about what,” I asked my oldest daughter.
“He thought you weren’t going to make it. He was worried you wouldn’t be here.”
It was only a few minutes, but those few minutes shook him to his core. The look of relief on his face made the veil raise on all his silly little activities and anecdotes. Mommy held the biggest part of his heart, he didn’t want to make room for me, too. He wants me here, grounded, ready to hold him up like I have been. He adored his Mom and it must have torn him up more than I even thought to know she wasn’t coming home. He’s mad when he cries about her even when I tell him it’s OK, nobody thinks badly of him crying about missing his Mom.
But he doesn’t just miss her. He’s worried about all of us, just doesn’t know how to show it.
Except he does. So this morning I scooted his little head onto my lap, leaving the house a few minutes later than usual. When he woke up, he noticed there was a hot waffle on a plate and syrup at the ready and I was cradling his head. I gave him a firm foundation for his day. I gave him reason to believe his Dad will be there.
And I will be, no matter what it takes to keep him feeling that way, because I can’t see that look, that panic in his eyes again. I may have been late to the picture, but I saw the whole scene played out. That’s what’s important to him. And now it’s become important to me.
And I have to admit, I love coming home to see him peeking through the curtains. I love he has a reason to believe I’ll be there to see it.