“Daddy, I’m scared.”
Those three words get my attention like no other. They remind me how much my children need me, and how deeply I miss Kristen.
It had been a good day. I got both kids ready and out the door on time this morning, went to the park and ran 3 miles, looked up call numbers for library books I needed, went to campus for training and had a great time with folks I love working with, checked out my books, then came back home to grab a quick bite before it was time to pick up both kids. I had hoped to study more and work on my dissertation a bit, but there just wasn’t enough time. There never is.
When I brought Elizabeth and Ian back home, I knew better than to try to do any more of my work before dinner, so I heated up leftover green beans and carrots. Ian is transitioning to table food, so while he can eat many of the things Elizabeth and I enjoy, it also means cereal for dinner just won’t cut it anymore. Ian was reluctant to eat the vegetables, but after a few minutes, his hunger compelled him to finish his food quickly. Elizabeth protested as well, but at least I could explain to her why she had to eat the food I gave her.
After dinner, Elizabeth and I began organizing Ian’s clothes. Now that winter is finally over and 70+ degree days are the norm, it’s time to put away the long-sleeve shirts and fleece pajamas. It’ll be shorts and t-shirts for the next 3 or 4 months, with the occasional pair of overalls or dress pants reserved for church. The organizing was going well, but I noticed Ian was fussier than normal. He’s only 15 months old and is still cutting teeth, so that’s usually the reason. It was almost his bedtime, so I got him ready for bed, went through our normal nighttime routine, and hoped he would fall asleep. Only he didn’t. And nothing eased his cries. They only grew louder.
I’m not a naturally patient person. Most people aren’t. But I’m used to hearing my children cry. I’d say I can tolerate their cries fairly well most of the time, and I’m definitely better at it than Kristen ever was. She never could let Elizabeth cry herself to sleep. She always had to pick her up, rock her, sing to her, and stay with her until she was out. It’s a mother’s prerogative, so I never told her to stop, but I still felt we were spoiling Elizabeth. I really don’t want to start spoiling Ian now, so it usually doesn’t bother me to hear him cry himself to sleep. But tonight–for some reason–I just couldn’t function while he cried.
It was nearly 7:30 p.m. by this point, almost Elizabeth’s bedtime, so I asked her to spend some time alone in her room while I tried to relax. Part of being a single parent is recognizing my limitations. I know I can’t take care of my kids if I don’t set aside time for myself. I had hoped to take just a few minutes, maybe 10 or 15, to sit in silence, pray, maybe write in my journal. Nothing more. But I overlooked the fact that my plan depended upon Elizabeth’s cooperation, which she didn’t grant. Her face began to turn red, her lip began to quiver, and tears started welling up in her little brown eyes.
“Daddy, I’m scared.”
My six-year-old daughter didn’t want to be alone. My little girl–my precious little girl–wanted to be with me. She just wanted me to hold her, to tell her how beautiful she is, to rub her head and kiss her cheek, and tell her everything is going to be OK. She needs her parents’ unconditional love, so I can understand why, after losing her mother before she’d even turned 5, she would want to cling to the only parent she has left.
That’s when I started crying, too.
I don’t blame Elizabeth for not wanting to be alone.
I feel the same way.