I spent the night fleeing from my children. The children that wrapped themselves around my leg as they met me in my office so we could go eat together after working late. And the girls that insisted on sitting, not only on my side of the booth at the restaurant, but essentially in my lap. Lydia with one leg perpetually over mine as she wiggled and squirmed her plate closer and closer to my own so I was bumping my head against the ketchup bottle while I tried to lean to get to my retreating corned beef hash.

They just wanted to be near me. And I wanted to be near them, but there is something exhausting about meeting a pack of children directly outside your office door after a long day. And I couldn’t help but find myself sliding away from them. Shrugging their little arms off of mine. Holding their hands as we walked and then reaching my arms out to force a bubble around me. Sweeping away the noise. “Why don’t you ride home in Mom’s car?”, “No, I’d rather ride with you, Dad.”

Later, as I was climbing into bed, I had to pick up a Gideon shaped pancake and move him off of my small sliver of mattress. His feet came immediately back to kick me in the ribs like magnets to my fragile rusted bones. I was restlessly beaten.

An hour or so later Lydia came stumbling into the room, sleep walking, smirking. I turned her around to take her back to her own bed, but gave up immediately as her fire engine whine started to go off. I laid the child in my bed, kissed her forehead, and left to sleep in the peaceful darkness of her own room. A small field of flowers welcomed me with a lumpy bedspread, but it would have to do.

Then Clara somehow sensed my presence and was there next to me in the tiny bed attempting to share my pillow. Her squiggly hair wormed its way up my nose. I wiggled free and moved to her bed, still warm in its little baby deer hollow on top of the covers where she prefers to lay.

I slept here for several hours before Clara once more realized I was missing and came looking for me once again. I was woken up exhausted, defeated, and I stared up at the ceiling with a heavy rattling sigh. I watched the pink paper ball above the girl’s bed as it gently twirled one way, then stopped, then slowly twirled the other.

And again I continued my fruitless retreat. I slowly brought myself up to my elbows and was about to slink away to the bottom of the bed when she suddenly wrapped herself around my arm like an octopus and pulled me back down. Eyes still closed, dreaming, she whispered, “I love you Dad…”

I clenched my teeth. This is what love is, I reminded myself. This is what love looks like. It’s feeding the needy from your own bones. Your own essential chambers of reserve. Being driven out and pursued by your own acolytes.

I conceded victory. “I love you too,” I said to the ceiling. My alarm was set to go off shortly anyway. I stopped running and at last gave my body to be burned.