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Checking for Breathing

I used to check on my babies when they were sleeping, when things had been quiet for a while, before I could sleep. I would step quietly up to the crib and stand there until I could see the rise and fall of their breathing. Sometimes I would reach out and touch, just to be sure. Carefully, of course, because I didn’t want to wake the baby and trigger another round of tending-to-infant-needs. Their sleep was a blessed respite for me, but I still had to check and make sure they were okay.

That impulse has never fully left. I still listen for the sounds of my children. A part of my brain tracks their locations and their safety. Occasionally, I still peek in on them when they are sleeping. Partly I’m checking to make sure the sixteen year old isn’t pulling another all-night you-tube fest on a school night. No lights from screens are in her room, so I step in and let my eyes adjust to the dark until I see her breathe. She is safe. All is well.

Happiness is simple for an infant. If a parent can accomplish breathing and not-crying then what is left is interest and joy. The older the children get, the more complex their internal worlds become. And the less I am able to make sure they’re okay. Checking on the kids requires talking and listening. I have to listen to what they say and infer what they don’t say. Sometimes I know that they are hurting and often there is nothing I can do to heal it. Sometimes what I have to do is not interfere because making them safe prevents them from learning or growing. But it means that there are days I stand outside a teenager’s closed door and wish I could “check for breathing” in a way that quickly ascertains the total well being of the person who shut me out.

2 comments to Checking for Breathing

  • Ken Franklin

    I regularly feel awe at the way you can craft the depth and spectrum of love into accessible words. Merry Christmas to you, Howard and your permanent contributions to the good of the universe. God Bless.

  • DarrenG

    Mine are only 13 and 10 but I can so relate to this.