I believe in the power of sleeping children.
I have two daughters, ages eight and four. In a moment of fairness to the other daughters of the world, I would have to admit that as a pair they are fairly common. They do many of the things all other girls their ages do, which is mainly to try and get each other in trouble and to pretend they are much older than they actually are. They like Barbie and the Disney Channel shows and most things pink. And on occasion they play together as friends instead of forced inmates, and my heart sings.
This summer I played single father and it was the first time I had been with them alone for more than a few days since their mother and I divorced. Before they arrived, I had cast an eye to the future with some trepidation. I doubted my parenting skills and worried that I would constantly keep reminding myself that I only had a few weeks to go, like a cabin-fevered school boy bearing down on the late days of spring. I wondered if I would be resentful of the crashing intrusion on my well-ordered life their presence represented. Fortunately, full time fatherhood was better than I remembered it, and we waded our way together through the summer on the edge of chaos.
A few weeks ago an epiphany occurred to me after putting them to bed. My oldest is the dream child to put to sleep: she always seems ready and most nights can’t be bothered to say “goodnight.” She just changes into a princess nightgown, brushes her teeth and shuffles off to bed. It’s apparently up to me to make sure I catch her before she drifts off, and on this night I was lucky to get two little arms around my neck and a soft-lipped smooch from her. My youngest, however, puts up more of a fight and knows all the tricks. She’ll wait until I think she’s asleep before standing at the side of my bed, proclaiming she needs to go potty or a drink of water. She’s a master of procrastination and has perfected the art of sneaking out of bed.
But on this night I had said goodnight to them both, and then left them alone while I performed some domestic chores. When I was done I stuck my head in the room and was drawn in by the easy sound of their breathing. I first sat by my youngest, her countenance angelic in the light cast from the hallway. Her eyebrows were slightly arched and her lips were pouted just so, and I had to kiss them lightly and stroke the hair from her face. With a warm tummy, I moved to my first-born. It had been a long time since I remembered what it felt like to meet her for the first time, walking into the hospital room where my young wife and new daughter lay resting, and laying eyes on your child for the first time. On this night I not only remembered feeling it, I felt it again, and I stared in wonder at this young lady sleeping before me in a surreal to juxtaposition of the wonderful person she is with the wondrous creature she was.
I am firmly convinced the world would be a better place if we each spent just a few minutes per day studying a sleeping child. The cynical among us would argue it’s only that they’re finally quiet; the bickering and whining and incessant chatter has momentarily paused and we not so much feel the intimate peace of the small body at trustful rest as we rejoice in the stolen moment of solitude. But I refuse to acknowledge that theory because that night, in that brief interlude between the day past and the day to come, I wanted to be a better father, a better man, a better person with genuine concern for others, and I understood that my ultimate legacy to world lay before me.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.