I keep a well-worn pocket-sized Spanish hymnbook in my nightstand for those warm, restless nights. When the peepers and crickets play a chorus as sweet and fuzzy and tender as ripe peaches. When the girls say in small, tired voices “Daddy, will you sing to us?”
In English I am a wretched singer. Beyond wretched. But in Spanish things feel different. My voice seems somehow passable. Perhaps it’s the novelty of it all. My audience isn’t all that sophisticated anyway – the kids count Miss Piggy and The Wiggles among the all-timers. They also don’t speak a lick of Spanish. They don’t know how many times I paper over a botched line with plausible-sounding improvisational Spanish nonsense.
So, there I sat on the ancient weathered planks of the upstairs hallway, on the pine hand-hewn by the homesteaders that built this place generations ago. The gaps between boards ebb and flow with the seasons and humidity, alternating between pretzel-rod and pretzel-stick thick. There are worse places to sing. The acoustics are superb. The audience is appreciative.
So with back ramrod straight I belted out melodies about amor and esperanza and fe, hoping that, despite the language barrier, through some miraculous phenomenon, the messages would somehow distill like heavy drops of dew on the hearts of my drowsy little audience.
A gradual stillness settled in. By day the walls and floors of a home with eight small children pulse with energy. Enough so that when the delicious stillness of nightfall finally arrives, it comes as a feeling. Those first few deep breaths of it are sweet and thick enough to cut with a blunted pair of child safety scissors.
The song requests slowed in frequency as, one-by-one, the kids dropped off to sleep. I sang a few past total stillness, just for good measure. But then, right in the middle of a verse about paz, a four-year-old boy bounced out of bed and urgently pitter-pattered down the hall, hurdling my outstretched legs like Pitfall Harry, rounded the corner, all the while tugging at his pajama bottoms, and finally lunged desperately for the potty in a heroic attempt to beat nature’s unforgiving clock.
A moment or two later, as I wrapped up a verse about belleza, I heard, in quick succession, the unmistakable sound of a flush, followed by something that sounded like the gurgling a small mountain stream, and then finally the anguished cry of a nervous boy who had just clogged his first toilet. For a rookie, he had done a thorough job of it. Thick puddles of toilet water spilled over the rim, oozed across the tough old floor planks, and dripped gently into those broad gaps in the flooring.
The line between the glorious work and the grunt work is so thin as to be invisible. Straddling it is the very essence of parenthood. I crossed that line as I traded the little Spanish hymnbook for a plunger and a mop.
I assured the still shaken little guy that everything would be okay and tucked him back into bed. He asked for another song, so I crooned a couple encores about oracion and milagros before resuming with the plunger and mop. But first I paused to savor the concert of tiny contented snores. All the little brains, working overtime in the stillness, sorting and organizing all of the day’s bits of information, a million images flickering across the blank canvas of fresh dreamtime. The little hearts ferrying the microscopic blocks that might someday turn one of my boys into a 6’9” power forward complete with devastating dropstep.
But the rapidly-building stench snapped me quickly from my daydream. So I rolled up my sleeves and serviced the overflowing toilet. I have become pretty handy with a plunger. Within minutes I had the bathroom floor looking as good as a bathroom floor in a home of 6 young boys at home can possibly look.
Downstairs I filed away the dirty rags and cleaning supplies, washed my hands, and then proceeded to the pantry for a well-deserved snack. I settled on a mostly eaten carton of Oreo ice cream in the freezer. To my delight, some young, brazen dessert thief had, in haste, even left a spoon behind. So I used it.
I could feel the little green himnario in my rear pocket, worn and curved precisely to the contour of my right rump. Another glorious day in the books. Another tragedy averted. Cookies and cream never tasted so heavenly.
That’s when I noticed a dripping sound coming from the downstairs bathroom, steady and rhythmic. It had been bath night and I guessed that the kids hadn’t turned the water off all the way. It’s practically a full-time job around here: following behind the roving packs of offspring, closing the fridge, turning off the water, and flipping off the lights.
There will come a day when I miss it all, when the kids, devastating drop-step or not, will scatter to the wind. The house will probably be a lot tidier and the electric bill a lot lower. The days and nights will be much quieter. But no one will ask me to sing. No one will need me to unclog a toilet.
I walked my ice cream into the bathroom, stepping over discarded clothing, soggy towels, and a bushel-worth of misplaced bath toys. But the tub was bone dry. The faucet too
I stood there for a brief moment wondering. What could it be?
And that’s when I felt it. A solitary, gentle raindrop, filtered down from the toilet directly above me, through the weathered old floorboards, through the generations-old cracks, through the tangle of wires and pipes, around the light fixture above me, and squarely unto my head. A little milagro distilled from the cielos.
One drop, then another. Cascading down my graying hair, right into my carton of cookies and cream.