I don’t know that I will ever be able to fully articulate how I love my kids. Were it a quantifiable thing, I’d give you a number. As it is, I don’t think any sophisticated adult has ever improved on the simple claim made by all of us lucky enough to have been loved as a child who have spread our arms wide and said, “I love you this much!”
My son, Charlie, is the sweetest boy, and he will stop me and his mother to make sure we are listening, in the middle of getting ready for bed or when we are cooking or whenever, to tell us, “I love you. You’re the best, Daddy,” or “Mommy, I love you more than anything ever!”
“Oh, Charlie,” I gasp, “I love you so much. You are the most wonderful boy.”
I wish words were more evolved. I wish our minds could describe what flows through us as parents. All of it is extreme: the frustrations, the joys, the exhaustions, and elations. The simple act of falling for your child, for me an act that happened in an instant, opens a vein you didn’t know you had. It pours from you in every way you can imagine.
I didn’t appreciate the love I was given as a child, not fully at least, until I discovered it from the other side, until I looked intently at my own kid and marveled and recoiled and felt the bond between us so deeply that it seemed I could reach out and hold it.
My youngest, Teddy, is my little man, and I can’t get over his curiosity. He’s trying all the time that his brother is around to compete, a thing that looks different in a younger brother than an older one. His focus primarily is on his big brother, but his quiet moments are the ones that steal my heart. He can smile when your head shares a pillow with his and he wants to tell you about all the things he is thinking — about his ideas and plans, about how much he loves Mommy and Charlie and me. He builds big and little bridges to you and everyone, one at a time. It’s magic.
On the other side of this newfound entity of love for my kids is an equally newfound fear. One that could only exist in relation to my fondness for these boys. I’m terribly afraid of random tragedy now. While they have opened me up, have cracked the shell around my heart, they have also made me a vigilant hawk. See, I’m now and forevermore aware that there is something infinitely more tragic that can happen than there ever was prior to this.
The first week it paralyzed my wife and I to a degree. We had no idea that there was something so awful as the fears of a parent. People can’t wait to tell you about the lack of sleep and the magic of babies. They don’t tell you that the most tragic of ends now comes to reside in your imagination.
I never feared my own death until I knew it would affect my own kids. It never occurred to me to think of it. Now if my wife so much as has a cold, I’m worried, only for a moment at a time, but I worry there’s something bigger hidden in her cough. If I’m making dinner and she’s picking up the kids and they are a few minutes late, my brain arrives in an instant at a place where I can imagine all three of them struggling in an overturned car, or thrown from the car, scared and alone in their final moments. I know. It’s awful.
But as quick as it comes, it disappears, and I’m back to worrying about whether or not I should use the last of the celery as it’s Charlie’s go-to and whether or not Teddy will eat the string beans or if I should not bother to make them.
I don’t know what the word would be to describe these things, these rushes between otherworldly levels of joy and dread and monotony, but there should be a word. It seems to be a universal feeling, and across the board, it seems unknowable until the instant you fall for that kid. Then it’s unshakable from that point forward.