Ice pellets fell overnight and school is cancelled. Krista must work this morning at her optometry practice, and grandma has commitments too. So I’m at home doing my best to address my responsibilities at the UD law school while simultaneously supervising Abby, Daniel, and Luke.
In this particular context, “supervising” means I eavesdrop and stand ready to intervene should there be a threat of extreme violence (mild violence is permitted, at least for a little while, because I want to see them settle their conflicts by themselves if at all possible). It also means I constantly dole out of various foodstuffs. [Note to self: instruct financial planner to invest heavily in Nabisco, General Mills, and any corporation involved in dairy production.]
Luke and Abby are playing a Jenga-like game constructed around a Star Wars theme. They’ve built the game’s contraption, which is supposed to resemble the Death Star, and are now taking turns knocking it down with a small catapult that launches “Angry Birds” at it. I can’t see them, but I hear everything clearly, because they’re playing at our wooden dining room table which sits atop a wooden floor. The crashing sounds of the crumbling Death Star and their exclamations echo loudly. In between turns, they talk about things that are of crucial importance to them at this stage of their lives. I’m reminded of how different they are from each other, and how special they are, and how uniquely and naturally my love for them flows.
Luke: “Do you think this is better than going to school?”
Abby: “Is that a serious question?”
Luke: “Well, yeah. I mean, if dad takes us to McDonald’s for lunch, then this is better. But if he doesn’t, then it’s kind of a tie.”
Abby: “Luke. Use your brain. Think about it: even if we don’t go to McDonald’s, we’ll just eat the lunches mom packed for us, so lunch is, at worst, a tie. But the rest of the day OUT of school is way better than the day IN school. Hello?? Maybe a visit to the library? Games? And you know dad’s going to play Hide-and-Seek with us eventually, which is pretty cool. C’mon. Get real.”
They continue this conversation for a while, and I turn my aural attention to Daniel. He’s upstairs in his room playing with legos and humming. The boy just can’t stop himself from humming, and I’ve stopped asking him to try unless he’s at school or church. I suppose this is a good thing, his humming, a sign that he’s happy or at least content. During his toddler years he cried or whined incessantly, the victim of painful and recurring ear infections and the frustration that comes from the inability to express yourself in a way that’s understandable to anyone around you. I can’t be sure, but it sounds like Daniel’s murmuring the tune to “Call Me Maybe.” Even so, I’ll take the happy humming, thanks. He comes downstairs and walks past me, turning in quick, sporadic circles as he stares at the lego toy he’s grasping in his right hand. He does this a lot, too, and rarely bumps into things—a minor miracle in itself.
Luke comes to me now and wallops me with a ticklish question every parent has encountered. “Dad, who do you love the best?”
“Luke, I love you all the same amount, but in different ways.”
“No, dad. Seriously. When you say something like that I know what it means. It means you don’t love me as much as you love Abby or Daniel. Right?!?”
I shake my head, no, and get up to retrieve one of my favorite books so I can read a portion of it to my skeptical 8 year old boy. “Somewhere More Holy” is a beautiful and searing memoir written by a young father of four boys, each of whom arrived after the passing of their older sister who died of a brain tumor when she was 3 years old. It is honest and poignant and heartbreaking and hilarious, an extraordinary account of how the author and his wife found God in the midst of their pain and doubts, and chronicles how a home is oh-so-much-more than a collection of rooms. It’s where the sacred and mundane collide daily.
Toward the end of the book, the author recalls a moment when his sons ganged up on his wife and asked her that haunting and dangerous question: Who do you love the best? I read this portion to Luke, hoping desperately it will satisfy him:
“‘My heart’ she tells them, ‘is a house filled with rooms. And each of you has a room all to himself.’” The author adds—and I read this to Luke as well—“The rooms of our hearts are full with everything that is them [our children], and when we think back to the days before we had them, we realize how much smaller our hearts were back then.”
I tell Luke, “That’s pretty much how I feel. Each of you has a special room in my heart which I cherish. And there’s another room, a bigger, messier room, which all of you, including mommy, sometimes occupy. That’s my favorite room of all. Make sense?”
“Yeah, that’s cool,” he concedes. “But who do you love the best?”
Timothy Swenson is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in these opinion pieces are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.