Last night, as I sat on the couch watching American Idol with my daughters I soaked in every moment like it was last night we were ever going to spend together. I wrapped my arms around them and let their limp bodies tangle up with mine as we watched the final 6 perform old Queen songs together. They clung to my limbs like their childhood blankeys pressing their cheeks into my biceps and rubbing their faces against my neck and jawbone. Their legs would drape over mine dandling there about 8 inches off the floor.
We tried to get a blanket and get it wrapped around all of us at the same time, but it was an involuntary jockeying for position on my lap for the coverage of that scrawny blanket made for one--one person who was about 4 foot tall and 4 foot wide. And here we are trying to stretch it to fit three or four. But you manage somehow. Only families can find a way to make small, cramped conditions a moment for intimacy. This is what it means to be a family. You don't do this kind of stuff with other people. It would be weird.
I would kiss the girls soft foreheads with my daddy lips brushing them back and forth on their faces and then pecking them ever so softly. One time Aly said, "Dad, you're breathing too hard." She was right and that was kinda gross, so I had to monitor and manage my breathing to an almost indistinguishable rhythm. It was what I imagine a breathing exercise feeling like, forced at first, but over time you get the hang of it.
I would rub their little arms with the tips of my fingers, trying to find the perfect place right up to when it is sleep inducing--entrancing--without going beyond that tipping point to ticklish. You can feel when it's too ticklish because they twitch a little and that gives you the cue to press down a little harder and quicken the movements of the "figure eights" you're making all over their little limbs. I also massage the palms of their little hands with my thumb hitting those sensitive little spots in between their fingers that hardly ever get any attention. They just put their hands out and let me have my way with them. One them has clammy hands, one of them has dryer hands, and the other one, I suppose, has normal hands and she doesn't seem to find it all that relaxing.
My whiskers present a little bit of a problem, but I can tell sometimes they use my face to scratch an itch on their shoulder or face, like a bear rubbing his back up against a rough-barked tree. But most of the time, they ask me to shave so they can run their little hands across my skin making remarks about how smooth it is and almost always asking, "Does mom like it when it's like this?" To which I respond discreetly, "You have no idea." They smile and keep rubbing my face putting their noses up close to it to smell the lingering aroma of the shaving cream. Remember that smell growing up? They love when I smell like after-shave or cologne commenting, "Dad you smell sooooo good?" I'm not sure if this means that most of the time I smell wretchedly bad, but I'll take the momentary affirmations.
Halfway through the American Idol 2-hour show, we pause the DVR and tell them to get upstairs and brush their teeth in preparation for bed. It's already 9:30pm, so we're at least an hour past when we normally begin the long, arduous process of "bedtime". I chase them up the stairs slapping their little behinds, goading them like a herd of cattle. I keep them on task with little reminders of what they are supposed to be doing: "Where's your toothbrush? Tay, get your shin-guards out of your socks. Kami, don't worry about texting your friend sappy goodnight well-wishes. Aly, quit horsing around!" And so on and so forth. Finally, they make their way to their bunk-beds...they all sleep in the same room.
That begins another tradition of climbing into bed with each of them and wrapping them up in my arms asking them the simple question: "How did your day go?" They usually respond with a flippant "good" or "ok". Sometimes I'll probe deeper with half-jokes like: "Anyone I need to beat up for you that's been giving you a hard time? or Any boys that you need me to take care of that are being annoying or bullies? or Any girls talking about boyfriends and girlfriends that need me to come in and set them straight? They giggle and begin to tell me stories they'd never tell me if they didn't think I was joking in the first place. It's a great parental ploy.
Aly likes to be tickled a bit, but she also loves to be snuggled where she lays on her left side and I spoon with her and pull back her hair and lay softly on the side of her tender face. Then she'll say something like: "Ask me a question, dad?" From there we could explore anything from her feelings about herself or life around her to funny things that happened that day or how she's feeling about her relationship with her mom. Often she wants to play the "would you rather game"...where I say "Would you rather snuggle with your dad or ... go to Disneyland." She will wait to give an answer and I'll play into the evasive game of mounting tension by saying, "What is taking you so long to answer, it's a no brainer." If she feels like getting tickled and tortured, she will pick Disney and brace herself for the full fury of my fatherly mauling. If she doesn't feel like getting tickled she will reply, "Snuggle with you, Dad." We will lay there for a while and then I'll kiss her goodnight, rub her face with my fingertips like Gramma Lavin used to do with me, sometimes pray into her little ear, and then make my way to Taylor's bed.
By this time Tay is giggling already as I make my way up the ladder to her upper-bunkbed. She is crunched in her little purple blanket she's had since she was a baby. She's a unique creature, because during the day, she isn't as affectionate and snuggly with me. She appears busy like she's got something to do or somewhere to go when I ask her to give me a hug or let me pick her up. Sometimes she'll initiate connection or affection during the day, but her mind is filled with tasks and to-do's. But at night time, she wants to connect. She will grab my arm and pull it over her shoulder like a blanket and hold it like her favorite stuffed animal. She wants me to envelope her and often asks, "If there was a tornado and you were trying to protect me, how would your cover me?" I take my body and wrap her up in it so tight and completely that she senses she would be shielded from any blast. Then she'll want to do antonyms and synonyms. I will say and word and she will either come up with the opposites or the similars to that that word. She loves this game. She came up with it one day when she learned about this concept from her English class. I ask her how her day was last night and she said, "God...it was a God day." We laughed and commented on how she was missing an "o" but how cool it was that you could have a God day and it would be even better than having a good day. She loves a good "play on words". We made up a tongue twister last week together just before bed: "Hey, whiskered mister, where's my sister, I've missed her." Say that five times fast. When I'm getting ready to leave, we'll often pray and then she wants me to kiss her 8 times, one for every year of her life. She loves it when I miscalculate and go over one or two...reminding me that she tricked me. I always purposely miscalculate. I love childhood.
Then it's my eldest who gets the caboose of the bedtime train. She has her bed set up with a configuration of pillows and blankets that are put in place like a Tetris game. It gives her comfort and a feeling of protection. I climb in bed behind her and put my arm under her head and wrap my leg up and over her body. She asked last night, "Why do you think it feels so good to be held so tight?" I commented that it's probably something that we felt in our mother's womb as we floated around in amniotic fluid tightly snuggled in the loving belly of our mom's body. She said, "Dad, that's gross." I replied, "I know, but I'm just saying." To which she'll respond, "I'm not saying, I'm just saying." This is my daughter who loves little one-liners passed down through the years like "Don't insult my intelligence" or "You can't beat that with a stick." or "Make my day." or "Floating an air biscuit". She absolutely loves the expression of language and how it can change someone's mood or the atmosphere of a room. She is the most open with me about her feelings and loves to know about my life. She's the only child I have that asks me questions: "Dad, how was your day?" "Are you feeling good today, dad?" "What did you do today, dad?" Most of it is unabashed nosiness, but a lot of it is her psycho-social skills and her affective spirit. She is deeply tuned into the spirit and soul of life and can feel when something has changed in the environment that goes undetected by most people. She wants to get in on the story and listens with the attentiveness of a prairie dog--upright, staring intently and listening for a pin to drop. She loves to kiss me right on the lips. Before school, after school, before dinner, after dinner, before bed, after bed...she is Miss affection. And I love this about her. I wrap her up tight in her blankets before I kiss her goodnight and then I warn her about the bedbugs and how they are poised to bite her all night. She snickers and buries her head in her pillow faking like she's not going to be standing at the top of the stairs in about 5 minutes asking her mother and I if she can take a Melatonin, to which we respond, "Yes, and then get to bed!"
This is the stuff life is made of. I needed to write it down so I wouldn't forget. Still counting my blessings and naming them one by one...how 'bout you?