How can I describe my son’s smile for you ?

There is a mysterious, magical bond between a parent and their child. I’ve seen it lasso around a child even though the other end is anchored to an indifferent, abusive person. In the healthiest of circumstances, the most normal of homes, parent and child look at each other with inexplicable wonder. Yes, we all learn to grow up and grow apart. But before that happens, there is magic.

Parenting is unbelievably difficult. It consumes resources in your heart and in your gut and in your wallet that you did not think you had. I have been a parent since the month before I turned 23. I was still a child in many ways. In eight years, I have had three children. There is one more on the way. So many times, I scan through my children in my mind and I try to see where the plate my spin off the stick. I feel so incomprehensibly bad at being their father. I feel bad for them. So bad.

I have felt this way since the moment I met Ryann.

But the magic is still there.

It is easy to think yourself immune to the magic of being a parent. Once you have done it, day in, day out, for years and years, it may be tempting to think that all there is is the grind of getting your child fed or to the proper place or (finally, mercifully) into bed. But a big portion of who you are as a parent is actually just waiting for that next moment with the clouds will shift and the light will break through and you will be dazzled by what the mundane was hiding.

I am not very good at laughing. I don’t think people would describe me as a happy person, someone who laughs all the time for no reason. I don’t think I’m particularly mad or sad or anything. I just… I’m boring. I’m in my head thinking a lot. I’m reading. I’m watching. I don’t laugh very much.

Do you know what makes me smile and laugh more than anything else? Watching my kids. Watching and listening to them be themselves is so disarmingly good and happy. I don’t have to conjure up the emotion of being pleased or anything. I am magically transformed by their simple joy to also be joyous. It is joy-by-proxy. Right now, thank God, my children do not feel this is their job. They probably don’t even know how happy they make me. They’re not performing. They’re just them. And I am just standing to the side and watching the show. Smiling. Chuckling like an idiot.

They all do this to me in their own way. But my son is of an age where his own burgeoning personality intersects with physical incompetence and emotional exuberance that he makes me the laugh the most. He can make these facial expressions and hand gestures and crazy determined choices that make me laugh behind his back or hiding behind walls, not wanting to interrupt him.

But those times when he is laying on the bed or running from me and I sweep him up and I assault him with tickles, laughter bubbles up from deep inside of his guts and he laughs. I mean he really laughs with no reservations, no need to please anyone. He is totally abandoned to the moment of laughter. He makes me laugh with him, of course.

But more than laughing with him, I am pierced through by a kind of joy that is not found in other places or in any other way that is comparable. I feel slit from belly button to throat and stuffed full of a joy that has heft and radiance. I feel so full of love for my son that it still surprises me. I have felt this with each of my children, of course. And as unprepared as I feel to have a fourth child, as weak as I feel, as bowed under as I imagine I look like, I know that this new person that I will meet will be a multiplier of this kind of joy.

I’m so, so, so proud of who my children are. Each one of them. They’re imperfect and they drive me crazy and I can barely hang on. Yes and amen to all of that.

But they are wonderful.

There is a magic between us that I did not make. There is a magic amongst us that I am in awe of. So many people my age see children as unbearable destroyers of freedom. And they really do destroy your freedom. And your energy. And financial reserves (what’s that?!). But you are more than compensated by the magic that unmakes you and transforms you into a different kind of person. The magic burns and tears at you, yes.

But it also places you into the throbbing nuclear center of laughter. Go away to your work, to your job that you love. To your oh-so-important tasks. And then come home and watch your son or daughter be miraculous. And then, no matter how fulfilling your day has been, the lights will turn on. And you’ll be blinded by the magic of it all.

That is what it’s like when my son smiles.