Eli woke up crying last night, growing pains in his legs. I remember those pains, and my mother giving me two chalky St. Joseph’s aspirin, the ones with orange flavoring. There’s something about being cared for by your parent in the middle of the night that almost makes the hurt worth it. So I gave him medicine, and rubbed his legs, and told him a story that my grandmother used to tell me at bedtime, about a little mountain boy who liked to chop wood, but who got careless (this being a grandmother’s story, and perhaps more to the point, one of my grandmother’s stories) and chopped into his own foot, nearly taking off a toe. But, through hard work and determination, he not only recovered from his injury, he entered the wood-chopping contest in the state fair and won first place, despite being the smallest competitor.
“Does he have muscles like me?” Eli asked, yawning, the pain disappearing in a cherry Tylenol haze.
“Yes. Big muscles for a little fellow.”
“Did you ever chop wood?”
“Yes.” I showed him a scar from cutting wood. He showed me a recent ouch. I curled up next to him on his bed, and we whispered to each other about little boy things, until his eyelids began to flutter. I put my face down on his pillow, and breathed in his smells of soap and toothpaste and the slobber dried into his beloved blankey. I thought about how one day too soon for me, and not soon enough for him, this will be over. He will lie on a bed with his own child and tell him about the little woodcutting boy, and I will be Grandpa, who visits sometimes and barks at the television news and always has chewing gum or candy to share.
I remember holding Eli once, or perhaps it was Caleb, or Isaac, or maybe this realization has happened with each of them, and the Wife coming up and helping me hold and hug him. I remember the smile on his face, eyes closed, a look of bliss. “I have no knowledge of what this must be like,” I told my wife. Neither does she. We have never been held by a mother and father at the same time, both loving us and loving each other. It is an alien gift that we give our children, yet we sense its power in the peacefulness that comes over them.
The only thing better than feeling that embrace, I imagine, is giving it to my children, and knowing that they will never hold their own children and marvel, without experience, at what that feeling must be like.
This is part of the discovery, as I’ve written about our family, here and in the pamphlet (and have you ordered your copy yet?) and in pages that perhaps one day someone will read — that it is possible to build a foundation on razed ground. Perhaps it even makes us more careful, knowing how easily a home can crumble. Each brick matters very much to us. We have a generational vision, not only of how far we can get our children along a path free of neuroses and fear and insecurity, but how far they in turn will take their children. I think you have to have that vision as a parent — am I laying the foundation for my children and their children to live full, meaningful lives, or am I just feeding them the seed corn, set as I am on my own comfort and temporary success?
These are the things I thought about as Eli drifted off to sleep. They wonder sometimes, I think, why I watch them, why I search their faces. That’s one thing I’ll be happy for them never to know, that endless question: Am I getting it right?