Check out my latest essay in The Wall Street Journal, which includes, among other things, an homage to Thomas Sowell, a swipe at utopian parenting, and proof that Dr. Spock was in favor of, as the famed childrearing expert Barney Fife called it, "bud nipping."
One of last week's nights I woke to what I thought was a child crying outside our house. This is one of my fears, that my child will wander out the door in the middle of the night and walk away, more lost with each stumbling step, and I will sleep even as he calls for me, and I will sleep until it is too late.
I rose from the bed, certain one of my children was outside in the misty black. I went from one window to the next, trying to see him, until I woke more and realized I ought first check their beds. Each boy was where he belonged. Who was crying outside my home? Who is this lost child?
I know I have been hearing things at night. I lay back down, wide awake. I heard the sound again, only now I recognized it was the sound of Isaiah sighing, filtered through the baby monitor. I lay awake for a while, thinking about how sounds modulate in darkness, as if the dark itself is a material that distorts them.
This weekend I ran alone. Usually I have two boys on bicycles hovering about me, and a third in a baby jogger that I push before me, against which I whack my shins when I take overly long strides. I ran alone, and I listened to random music, and underneath that I heard the sound of my own heart and breath, and underneath these was the steady thump of my feet.
I came home, still thinking about the nature of sounds, and stripped to my skin, and dived into the pool. I pushed the air from my lungs until I sank to the bottom. I lay there motionless in the silence, until my lungs could stand emptiness no longer, and then I came up for air. I clung to the side of the pool and breathed. Above me in the trees was an enormous spider web, spun with thick silvery line. It looked like a flattened vortex, or perhaps a malevolent eye, or maybe it was just a spider's web.
Have you ever been alone, in the quiet of yourself, and been at peace? I felt that peace then, for no reason, the peace that surpasses all understanding, floating naked and alone in cool water. There are nightmares, yes, but there is also peace.
The calm was soon disrupted by William Isaac. He stood on one leg at the edge of the pool, working off a recalcitrant sock that was the last piece of clothing between him and skinny-dipping with Dad. He jumped in to me, and then we splashed about until one, then another brother, wandered out to find us. Soon we were all swimming like otters.
In his poem, "Word for Worry," Li-Young Lee writes: "When my son lays his head in my lap, I wonder/ Do his father's kisses keep his father's worries/ from becoming his?" Sometimes, when I tuck a child in bed and pray, I lay my head on the pillow beside him. Sometimes he will kiss me when I do this. Whenever this happens there is peace, which is always in the smallest places. I suppose we hear it best when we listen past the noises, to a whisper that must be God's.