Not home

On Sunday nights, after I’ve tucked in the boys, after I’ve packed my bags for another trip, I write each of them a note. I tell Caleb that I love the way he takes care of his younger brothers, or that I love his inquisitive spirit. I tell Eli that I love his perseverance, or maybe I say that I love the way he whispers to me when I kiss him goodnight. Someone has to read my notes to Isaac and Isaiah; though Isaac understands the part at the end: “Love, Dad.”

If that’s all any boy ever understands, it’s still something, isn’t it? I tell Isaac that I love how he can carry on a conversation with anyone. Or I tell him that I love how ferociously he hugs me. I tell Isaiah that I love his giggle, or I love the way he holds on to me with his whole body.

Caleb puts my note by his papers as he does schoolwork, so he can glance at it from time to time. Isaac and Isaiah keep theirs in their backpacks, a scattering of curled pages growing thicker, like grounded leaves in fall.

I don’t know what Eli does with his notes, but I know he reads them. He is the one to ask, when we talk at night by phone, if my work will be done soon, and why it takes so long to find someone else to do it. Isaac asks how many days until I’m back, going over it again and again with me, time and days and schedules still elusive things to him.

The cold, graying sky has drawn close in Denver, where I am without a coat. I’ve turned up the heat in my room as high as it will go, and still I am cold. No matter how well you pack, you can never take everything you need. Or even anything you need. It is warm where they are, and my heart is where they are, and it’s good to be empty-chested in these cities that are not home, for these cities always to whisper, Not Home.


  1. TWilson

    Amen… Sometimes I need to hit the road for that jolt of perspective, to be better when I’m home. But I’ve heard that whisper a thousand times.

  2. Carl Holmes

    If you ever need company from a wayfaring soul, I live in Colorado Springs. Denver is a close jaunt.

    Son of yours I am not, but familiar with the ache I am.

  3. Jason

    Fitting that you post this on the birthday of my father, who has been dead 10 years now. I too have a scattering of curled pages, and still find the time and days and schedules of such things elusive. And no matter how high the heat is, days like today still feel cold and empty-chested.

    Since he won’t be coming home again, I look forward instead to the day that I will be home, and see him again.

    Thanks for the pictures put into words, Mr. Woodlief.

  4. Carol

    Have you heard Michael Buble’s song “Home”? He sings the empty, aching-chested feel of travel, success, and knowing you’re blessed, but away from the biggest blessings – family, and love. It’s just not home.

  5. sjd

    O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely upon your holy will. In every hour of the day reveal your will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me. Teach me to treat all that comes to throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that your will governs all. In all my deeds and words, guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by you. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring. Direct my will. Teach me to pray. Pray Thou Thyself in me. Amen. (Philaret of Moscow)

  6. Lisa R.

    Your post reminds me that I do not tell my children daily that I love the things peculiar to each of them. What a lovely idea! As a stay-at-home mom, I’m afraid I’ve fallen into the rut of running things and attending to urgent matters, and that doesn’t always leave room for non-emergencies. This Thanksgiving, I’ll remember what you’ve reminded me of here.

    To share what I’ll write on my 14-yo daughter’s note this a.m. (the baby of the family, she’s taller than me!): “I love how you’ve always sighed gently in your sleep.”

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