My wife left for the weekend. She went away with high-schoolers for church camp, which should have earned her the Congressional Medal of Honor or a bottle of wine, or both. Her do-gooding left me with minion one and minion two, whose little, blond, seemingly caffeinated heads are always bobbing and weaving around the house, their still-developing selves spinning out in raw energy and movement and noise and questions.
I knew that too soon all this energy would go subterranean, sliding incrementally into long sullen silences as they hunker down into adolescence, trying to figure out who they are. Then they would emerge, after a long gestation, big and brash and beautiful, identities all their own. Not yet though. That weekend, they wanted me with them (always) and they shared every single thought (loudly) because each and every experience is fascinating, worthy of the deepest attention. For them, life is huge and enthralling, a stream in which they splash with delight.
Knowing their desire for my presence is a time-limited good, I silenced the internal, incessant chattering “to get stuff done” and stepped into the stream with my children. I cooked them breakfast, played an interminably long game of Monopoly, and then settled into the couch to watch a football game while they yammered and ate and stuck a finger in their ears or noses while wiggling by my side so that watching the game almost felt like playing it.
A disagreement broke the easy goodness of that moment: a screech, a thrown lego, and I sent the littlest minion to his room. He made his displeasure known along the way, wailing and weeping until that wee Job lied on his bed and thumped, thumped the bedroom wall with the heel of his foot. He thumped away until he kerchunked a hole in his wall.
Out of distress and with fascination at the damage he wrought, he sniffled his way back to the couch, abject and worried.
His furrowed brow was so deeply remorseful, I couldn’t be mad, so we trotted off to the bed, looked at the hole in the wall, tut-tutted together, and discussed at great length how to patch drywall. We decided a trip to Home Depot was in order which lead to slow walks down endless aisles, his hand in mine.
I answered questions about the importance of mesh in drywall mud. And because the whole effort was calorie-consuming, we looked for a place to eat that didn’t serve garlic-infused french fries knowing that any variation from normal french fries would cause much head shaking and hand wringing and maybe a little more weeping.
Back at home, I wrangled the two minions into a shower, then pajamas, and finally, finally to bed. Standing by their bed, I listened as their breathing slowed and they settled into quiet, and, dear God, I didn’t want them to leave that moment—that carefree, unselfconscious, playful, trusting, hopeful way of being. I wanted to plead as I tucked them in: “Stay right here my two little founts of chaos. Don’t listen to all the noise that says life is nothing but—nothing but work, nothing but accumulation, nothing but atoms crashing randomly into one another. Don’t do a weary, cynical, ironic distance from life. Do joy and hope. Always.”
But I didn’t say that because it would have been weird and incomprehensible. Instead, I pulled the blanket up over their shoulders, ran my fingers through their still damp hair, and prayed for them, my hand on their warm foreheads: “May our Lord bless you and keep you, make his face shine on you . . . "
As I left the room, I thought about my two older children—a young man and woman long past tucking in. I longed for them to revisit joy again and again as they grow into adulthood. Just yesterday they were energetic little ones too, all giggly and wild with promise. To my daughter who writes, I want to say, “write joy.” To my oldest son who sings, I want to say “sing joy.”
I walked back to the living room weary and grateful, and at least on some days, joy finds me too. Days filled with all the little minion-goodness and knowing my beautiful Idaho gal was coming home, I believed in a joy that “moves the sun and all the stars,” as Dante hoped. We are promised it’s there all the time: “I tell you the stones will cry out.”
I stepped outside, into the long, blue, Pacific Northwest summer night. I built a small fire that popped yellow and loud against the approaching darkness and settled into the quiet evening with a pour of golden whiskey and a good book. The sun set slowly behind the green hills, night fell, the fire faded into red embers, and I waited in the dark, listening for the jingle of keys and the creak of an opening door.