I am exasperated. Sydney and Savannah won't cooperate with me, let alone each other. It's bedtime and Brenda and I are trying to get them to clean the playroom before they go, but they're stalling and using this as an opportunity to put off both cleaning AND going to bed. I give up and say, "Alright. We're done. Put down the toys and let's go to bed right now." I'm not yelling with my volume, this time, but I certainly am yelling with my tone. They relent with very little push-back and march up the stairs to get ready.
"Will you read us a story?" Savannah asks on the way up the stairs. "No I will not," I snap. "But why?" comes her plea. "Because stories are a privilege for little girls who play nice with each other and listen to their mommies and daddies," I exhume tersely.
Both girls finish brushing thier teeth and climb into bed. I've had time to calm down in the interim. As soon as I turn out the light, to seal the deal on this bedtime routine, Savannah asks to break protocol and go potty. Of course. "Yes, but hurry. It's sleeping time."
Now, Savannah is 3 years old and history suggests that I shouldn't trust her to finish quickly, turn off the light, and get back in bed of her own accord. All that to say, I have 3 - 5 minutes to spare while I wait.
I approach Sydney's bed and kneel down beside it. Our faces are close and I can see her giant brown eyes despite the darkness. "Can I ask you some questions?" I say in a somber voice.
"Yes," she squeaks.
"How does your heart feel?" I whisper.
She takes her eyes off me and answers, "It feels sad."
"Why?" I venture, as if I don't already know the answer.
She can't help but make eye contact with me again before she delivers, "Because you yelled at me."
"I don't like yelling at you," I respond softly, my eyes adjusting to the dark so I can see her more clearly. I notice that she looks concerned at my answer.
"Why not, Daddy? ... Is it because you don't like sad hearts?" I can't help but smile at her logic, and I confirm her suspicions, "Yes, I don't like sad hearts." But then I add with seriousness, "Especially yours."
She is smiling now. She liked that answer and she is aware that she has my full attention. Plus, I think she saw me smile.
"Would you like to pray with me?" I ask.
"Dear God, please help me and Sydney have happy hearts, not sad ones. And please help us be good listeners and not be people who yell at the ones we love. In Jesus' name, amen."
Savannah makes her way back into her bed on the other side of the room. She doesn't speak but I can feel her watching our outlined forms in the dark.
"Daddy, can I ask you a question?" Sydney interjects, before I have a chance to get up from my knees.
"Sure, honey," I reply.
"How does your heart feel?"
That ruckus you hear is the sound of tables turning. I think for a moment and then with a resolute quietness in my voice I breath, "It feels thankful." She plays right into my hands when she asks me, "Why?"
"Well, because it's glad you're my little girl," I respond. I don't say it out loud, but I'm also feeling thankful for the opportunity to affirm her one more time before the day ends.
"Can I pray Daddy?" Oh, I didn't see that one coming. But maybe I should have. I see now that she is following my pattern of questions.
"Of course you can, Syd. Always."
"God, thank you for listening to my Daddy and obeying him to make his prayer come true. Aaaamen."
"Amen" I whisper, risking blasphemy.
A kiss. A hug. And a move to the next bed. Savannah is laying there expectantly. She's wearing a one-piece sleeper, the kind with a zipper the length of the Orient Express, and she's laying on her hands which are tucked behind her back.
"Savannah, can I ask you a question?"
"Yes!" She blurts out with 1000 smiles.
"How does your heart feel?"
Still grinning from ear to ear, her hands wiggling behind her, "It feels thankful."
Ah, we have a copy cat. "Why does it feel thankful?" I'm half hoping for something akin to "Because you're my Daddy!" but instead I'm greeted with, "Because you let me go potty!"
Before I can begin the appreciate her comedic timing, she continues, "I'm going to pray. Dear-God-thank-your-for-this-food-and-thank-you-for-making-the-whole-world-in-jeezname-amen."