Alone in the wheel of light at the dining room table, surrounded by an otherwise darkened house, I sat in tears.
Finally, I'd succeeded in getting both kids to bed. A relatively new single parent, I had to be both Mommy and Daddy to my two little children. I got them both washed, accompanied by shrieks of delight, crazy running around, laughing and throwing things. More or less calmed down, they lay in their beds as I gave each the prescribed five minutes of back rubs. Then I took up my guitar and began the nighttime ritual of folk songs, ending with "All the Pretty Little Horses," both kids' favorite. I sang it over and over, gradually reducing the tempo and the volume until they seemed fully engaged in sleep.
A recently divorced man with full custody of his children, I was determined to give them as normal and stable a home life as possible. I put on a happy face for them. I kept their activities as close to how they had always been as I could. This nightly ritual was just as it had always been with the exception that their mother was now missing. There, I had done it again; another night successfully concluded.
I had risen slowly, gingerly, trying to avoid making even the least sound which might start them up again, asking for more songs and more stories. I tiptoed out of their room, closed the door part way, and went downstairs.
Sitting at the dining room table, I slumped in my chair, aware that this was the first time since I came home from work that I'd been able to just sit down. I had cooked and served and encouraged two little ones to eat. I had done the dishes while responding to their many requests for attention. I helped my oldest with her second grade homework and appreciated my youngest's drawings and oohed over his elaborate construction of Lego blocks. The bath, the stories, the backrubs, the singing and now, at long last, a brief moment for myself. The silence was a relief, for the moment.
Then it all crowded in on me: the fatigue, the weight of the responsibility, the worry about bills I wasn't sure I could pay that month. The endless details of running a house. Only a short time before, I'd been married and had a partner to share these chores, these bills, these worries.
And loneliness. I felt as though I were at the bottom of a great sea of loneliness. It all came together and I was at once lost, overwhelmed. Unexpected, convulsive sobs overtook me. I sat there, silently sobbing.
Just then, a pair of little arms went around my middle and a little face peered up at me. I looked down into my five-year-old son's sympathetic face.
I was embarrassed to be seen crying by my son. "I'm sorry, Ethan, I didn't know you were still awake. "I don't know why it is, but so many people apologize when they cry and I was no exception. "I didn't mean to cry. I'm sorry. I'm just a little sad tonight."
"It's okay, Daddy. It's okay to cry, you're just a person."
I can't express how happy he made me, this little boy, who in the wisdom of innocence, gave me permission to cry. He seemed to be saying that I didn't have to always be strong, that it was occasionally possible to allow myself to feel weak and let out my feelings.
He crept into my lap and we hugged and talked for a while, and I took him back up to his bed and tucked him in. Somehow, it was possible for me to get to sleep that night, too. Thank you, my son.
By Hanoch McCarty from A 4th Course of Chicken Soup for the Soul Copyright 1997 by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Hanoch McCarty & Meladee McCarty