A story shared by Barbara B. Smith in her talk, "Her Children Arise Up, and Call Her Blessed"
“Right after my divorce, I determined that I was going to give my children the best of everything. … I would provide well for them. … I would substitute in every way for their father. I would take them on picnics, build them a tree house, and play baseball with them. I would not allow them to suffer because of our divorce.
“I baked, sewed, ran, played, wrestled. I cleaned, I ironed. I was busy being both mother and father for them.
“One evening I put the three of them in the bathtub together while I finished a chore. Then I came back, soaped the youngest, rinsed him, lifted him from the tub, and stood him on a bath mat while I wrapped a towel around him. Then I carried him off to the bedroom to put his pajamas on and tuck him into bed. I repeated the process with his brother and then his sister.
“As I bent down to kiss them goodnight, my older son said, ‘Sing us a song, please.’
“‘Which one?’ I asked.
“‘“Rudolph”!’ said the youngest immediately.
“‘No, “Johnny Appleseed,”’ said his brother.
“Then their sister said, ‘Sing, “Stay Awake.”’
“‘I can see if I stay to sing one song, I’ll be singing for an hour, and I don’t have an hour to spare. So goodnight.’ I turned off the lights.
“‘Please sing just one song, mommy. You can choose the song.’
“‘What about our prayers?’
“Firmly, I replied, ‘I said goodnight and I mean goodnight.’
“As I walked back to the bathroom to tidy up, I thought of how grateful they would be someday when they were old enough to understand how much I had done for them!
“As I entered the room I stopped short. There on the bath mat were three perfect sets of damp footprints. For one brief moment I thought I saw standing in the footprints the spirits of those precious children I had just tucked into bed. In that instant I saw the foolishness of my ways. I had been so busy providing for the physical needs of their mortal bodies that I was neglecting their spirits. I knew then that I had a sacred obligation to nourish both. If I were to clothe them in the latest fashions and give them all that money could buy and fail to tend to their spiritual needs, I could not justifiably account for my awesome responsibility as their mother.
“Humbled, I went back to their bedroom. We knelt together in prayer. We all four climbed up on the boys’ big bed and sang song after song until I was the only one awake to sing.”