The Responsibility of Being a Parent is HUGE. The Things That Make You a Good One Are Small.


“I’ll get him,” I say, at dark-o’clock
in the morning, rolling slowly out of bed.
I am older now
than I once was, and my body sometimes
creaks like a tired house in a storm.

I walk the hall, avoiding the toys.
“Good morning, you,” I say, lifting Leo and burying
my face into his neck, his cheeks, smelling his warmth.
A one-year-old is still so close to their beginning
you can see their rings expanding, if you watch,
if you pay attention. He looks concerned.
“MaMA?” he asks. “MaMA?”
His voice is like the call of a baby bird. He emphasizes
the second syllable.
“She’s sleeping,” I whisper, kissing his cheek again.
“Let’s get brother.”

We walk the dark hall, Leo and I. We go
into my oldest son’s room. He sleeps spread out
on his bed, a lanky boy-man. Waking him, I
remember when it was only him. Time
is wind through the trees, a spirit you see
only when you do not look directly at it.
“Wake up,” I say, shaking the outline of him,
hills under a blanket.
“Five minutes?” his now-deep voice asks
from deep within a well.
“Five minutes,” I say, and walk out
with Leo.

We climb the stairs to heaven, to the place
my girls sleep. We climb the steep steps and
lean into Abra’s room.
“Good morning,” I say, and her eyes open. She
sheds sleep the way a baby duck shakes water
from itself. She smiles. She sits up. She

“Hi, Leo,” she says.
He waves, and the way he waves is by opening
and closing his hands, both of them, as if squeezing
away the night, or clutching
and clutching again,
each and every moment.

We walk into Lucy’s room and I put Leo on the bed.
He crawls towards her. She sighs and rolls over.
“Sleep good?” I ask. She nods.
“Leo,” she says, long and slow,
as if meeting him for the first
time, and he kisses her, and she laughs.
“Time to get up,” I say.
“Leave Leo here,” she says.

I always go to Sam last. He hates
going to bed. He hates
waking up. He progresses reluctantly.
I switch on the night, bringing day into
the room. “Sam-oh,” I call to him, over
that great distance. “Sam-oh.”
He is still as water. He sleeps in the depths, in some
other world, some other universe. My voice
comes to him as deep calls
to deep, travels the paths of comets, around
moons and between distant stars.
He is still so far away.
“I’m coming back,” I say. “You’d better
be up by then.”

When I think of these five lives,
and the sixth sleeping inside Mai, I realize
the massive nature of this calling.

Each child, a universe.
Each mind, a fresh field of snow.
The tracks we leave behind cannot
easily be smoothed over.
This can be a good thing
if we tread lightly.

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Shawn Smucker
Shawn is the author of the book The Day the Angels Fell, a middle-grade adventure tale that asks the question, “Could it be possible that death is a gift?” He has also co-written numerous non-fiction books and lives in the city of Lancaster, PA, with his wife and their six children. He blogs regularly about family, faith, and city-living at