I was afraid of losing our first child, even when she was healthy and near, even before we lost her. I suppose it’s natural to fear for them the way we do. It’s why we grit our teeth and force a smile when they wave to us from slippery stones in the middle of the creek, or when they get on their bellies and launch themselves as high as they can on the swing, because we know they have to risk themselves if they are ever to be happy, yet we are afraid.
I do a lot of teeth-gritting and smiling. A long while back my dentist made a mouth guard for me, because I was grinding my teeth away in my sleep. I suppose I’m gnawing on all kinds of things in my dreams. The worst dream is the one that bleeds into wakefulness, the one where you hear them calling, only you are inside and they are somewhere out there, and then you wake with your heart pounding in your throat so you can’t breathe, and you listen past the sound of its beating in your ears, because maybe they really are calling you, maybe they really have slipped outside into the darkness.
My wife found Isaac down by the creek one morning this week. I was already gone to work, and the sun was just working its way into the sky. He was tromping about in the tall grass on his short white legs, searching for me. It never occurred to me that maybe they fear for us, too. It makes me feel loved and heartbroken all at once, because I think, when I watch them sleep: The fear will settle over you soon enough, little ones.
But I suppose there is no loving, in this world, without fear — at least not for busted-up people like me, and maybe for some of you, too. So we hold them close, and they squeeze us back, and we are thankful for these days and nights when we can keep the darkness safely at bay. We listen for their voices all the same, and we pray they know we’ll always be there, that we’ll always come running to their cries, as far as our legs will carry us.