He goes in to look at them. Every night before we shut the door to our bedroom and declare the day done, he goes to see the sleeping boys.
Too often I play the part of the tired mother. I have been with them all day. I do not feel the need to watch again, especially now that they are finally peaceful, finally quiet. Sleep is sacred, besides. Some days I am counting the minutes until this moment. When the house is hushed and I can hear myself think.
So I am not naturally drawn to join him. Most nights I let him go alone as I turn down the hallway to our room. I crave the calm and rest that beckons beyond the bedroom door. Sleep is calling my name.
But once in a while I join him. I do not know why I decide differently, but I do. I turn from my well-worn ways and set down the laundry basket or the laptop or the pile of books I have lugged upstairs.
I follow him silently into their room.
. . .
Everything looks grainy in the dimmed dark. I hover over each bed, holding my breath until I see some slight stirring, some sign of life. This anxious practice from their newborn days has not yet left me; it still seems a miracle that they are here.
I watch them deep in slumber, limbs flung to four corners of their beds, nighttime contortionists in puzzling, perfect peace. Once in a blue moon I dare to bend down and brush a kiss against each warm forehead. I cannot resist; I want to seal some sacred moment with my love.
My husband is faithful with this night watch of a father. Whenever I share the shadowed space with him, I see how he sees them. He catches my eye in the blue-grey dark as we turn to go.
They are so perfect, he whispers. I can’t believe we made them.
I know, I nod back. I know.
And this, I realize, is his gift. To them and to me. He sees what we have done. He knows that it is good. He reminds me.
. . .
Callings come with creation and maintenance. We make a choice, a life, a work, a child. And then we have to care for it every day.
Maintenance can become the tired toil, the dragging drudgery we all know well, papers shoved with sighs around the desk, toys flung back in the bins, sink jammed full of dishes and washer crammed with another load.
I want to choose creation instead – the excitement, the energy, the expectation of the artist’s hope. Yet I am called to both sides: conceiving and cultivating. Each one of us is.
But what I forget too often – and what his nighttime vigils teach me – is that the space between creation and maintenance is holy, too. It is the place of simple satisfaction and grateful praise. It is the pause of Sabbath to begin again. It is the anticipation of the next note, the silence that makes the music sing.
It is a quiet call to see what we are doing with our humble life and to know that it is good.
Genesis tells us this story with a refrain so simple we forget to hear its truth. God saw everything he had made. And indeed, it was very good.
Each day brought creation, bursting with light and wave and leaf and wing, but then God stopped. And saw. And this is how the world goes on.
. . .
Lest you mistake me for a gentle saint, I will admit that this nighttime ritual used to annoy me to the point of itchiness. LET THE CHILDREN SLEEP, I wanted to seethe. LET’S JUST GO TO BED. And what if you wake them? I would plead with panic rising in those nerve-stressed months when sleep was an Olympic undertaking, a Sisyphean task.
But he was right to return each night. This is part of the promise we made to them as parents: to be the ones who see them, even in the dark. And this work deserves to be witnessed. It deserves to be declared good.
Maybe love sees best in dim light. Where edges are softened and contours blur. Where eyes must wait to adjust. Where we cannot focus on details but only gaze at the whole.
It is here that we finally glimpse the goodness of a calling’s contours: what the gift of our life has done, is doing, may yet still do. By the grace of God.
. . .
In the time it took me to write this, the children have woken twice, calling out for us. We each made the requisite return, offered a cup of water, tucked chins back under covers, kissed sweaty foreheads. They are not yet asleep, but I can see them already there in my mind’s eye. This, I realize, is how vision starts to change.
Tonight this is my prayer in the quiet. Let me slow down. Let me settle into the dark.
Let me see what matters. And let me know that it is good.