Several years ago, I found myself commiserating with a friend over his struggles to have children. For years, it seemed, he and his wife were able to conceive, but incapable of sustaining a pregnancy. Notwithstanding extensive examinations, lab work, and imaging studies to identify a treatable source for their difficulties, they suffered one miscarriage after another. Meanwhile, with each pregnancy came a familiar, grueling emotional cycle. It began with great joy, evolved into profound anxiety, and ultimately, concluded with withering sadness. With each miscarriage, their hopes dimmed that they would ever experience of joy of childbirth. It was a terrible story. As I looked at him with his furrowed brow and his unconsciously shaking head, it had been eighteen months since their last jeopardized pregnancy. It had been a harrowing road.

Only now, they had a baby.

My friend’s little boy was a miracle, he told me. “Somehow, when all seemed headed down that familiar, tragic path,” his eyes lit up and he flashed his winsome grin, “something worked.” At this time, I was not yet father to my two beautiful daughters. I smiled and earnestly asked him, “What is it like? How would you describe the feeling of simply holding this little one in your arms after all you have been through?”

Leaning forward with elbows on knees and eyes fixed on the ground, he became very quiet. “It’s like there was a hole in your soul that you never knew was there until this little one came along and filled it.”

Wow.

Now, I know, his line seems a bit borrowed from St. Augustine’s quote about the “restless heart,” but I’m pretty sure he has never read Augustine, and I’m pretty sure the good saint wouldn’t mind. And, by the way, I couldn’t agree more. 

One of my favorite quotes, often misattributed to Fyodor Dostoevsky, is “The soul is healed by being with children.” I don’t care who said itit’s true.

From the moment I first laid eyes on my beautiful Annabel and later my gorgeous Vivian, I knew it was over. I was smitten. Their big blue eyes melted me into an irrecoverable puddle. To say that fatherhood is my life is an understatement. To this day, I am still teased by friends for going to the police department to get my baby’s car seats installedtwice. Driving home from the hospital with a new baby in back was surely the slowest, sweatiest ride of my entire life. The first time I put my daughter into a onesie, I was deathly afraid I was going to accidentally break her little arm. And then came life. Teamed up with my amazing wife, we took on diaper changes, nighttime bottles, spit-up clean-up, baths, potty training, new foods, Target runs, baptisms, bedtime stories, doctor appointments, daycare drop-offs, snuggle times, stroller walks, weekly Mass, first days, bike riding, school parties, sporting events, time outs, family dinners, puzzles, songs in the car, birthday parties, First Reconciliation and First Holy Eucharist, family games, sleepovers, family vacations, knock-knock jokes, swimming lessons, weekday adventures (to the Capitol, the Cathedral, the Children’s Museum, the art museum, Twins games, the science museum, and on and on), homework, field trips, band practice, easy questions, tough questions, good friends, bad friends, “boys who are friends,” holding hands and not holding hands, advice taken, advice ignored, smiles, tears, laughing and laughing and laughing, loving and loving and loving. To this day, their big blue eyes still melt me.

The soul is healed by being with children.

What is it about having a child that changes everything? Nothing I could say would ever do it justice. It just does. You live differently because you have stopped living primarily for yourself and your spouse. That a tiny, vulnerable, unparalleled miracle is entrusted to you to love, to care for, to mold, and to be there for everything through everything until the day you die no matter what, changes everything. As well it should.

In his famous poem My Heart Leaps Up, William Wordsworth famously wrote that “the Child is the father of the Man.” That means the child that I once was still informs the man that I now am. When I became a parent, the little boy in me was awakened by my daughters who would also be my playmates. In the blink of an eye, the weary, stone serious side of me was evicted and replaced (like a glorious body snatcher) with a dad gushing with jokes and stories, interesting facts (to me, at least), and words of wisdom. Wonder and gratitude had become the new order of the day. To be sure, I still have my discipline hat and ever-ready lecture series, but I can’t tell you how much I simply love seeing my girls smile and their big blue eyes light up the room.

The soul is healed by being with children.

One of the most child-like, wonder-filled people to walk the earth, G.K. Chesterton (and his wife, Frances), always wanted children. And in spite of medicines and surgeries, time and prayers, they could never have their own. But that didn’t stop them from falling in love with children and having a house open to children and looking at the world through the eyes of children and praising God for children. At one point, when a little neighbor boy ran illicitly atop Chesterton’s garden wall and spied the three-hundred pound genius, the boy spat, “I think you’re an ogre.” Chesterton winked at the boy, assuring, “This wall is meant for little boys to run along.”

Whether you have struggled with pregnancy or have an enormous family, whether you are a biological father, adoptive mother, godfather, stepmother, grandfather, or just “like a mother,” you understand that there is nothing like having a child in your life. Nothing at all.

One of my favorite poems is G.K. Chesterton’s North Berwick. It reminds us that no matter our age or our plans, our dreams or our fears, we are called to rediscover the glory and innocence, hilarity and buoyancy of being with children.

North Berwick

On the sands I romped with children
Do you blame me that I did not
improve myself
By bottling anemones?
But I say that these children will be men and women
And I say that the anemones will not be men and women
(Not just yet, at least, let us say).
And I say that the greatest men of the world might romp with children
And that I should like to see Shakespeare romping with children
And Browning and Darwin romping with children
And Mr. Gladstone romping with children
And Professor Huxley romping with children
And all the Bishops romping with children
And I say that if a man had climbed to the stars
And found the secrets of the angels,
The best thing and the most useful thing he could do
Would be to come back and romp with children.

 

Indeed.

The soul is healed by being with children.