On occasion, far too often I’m afraid, I get the chance to step back from the daily struggles of parenthood and look more closely at my children.

They are impossibly, achingly beautiful.

I don’t say that just because they are handsome young men because it’s much, much more than that. They are a mysterious, inexplicable swirl of Jenny and me and her family and my family and God and genetics and chance. No matter how much we try to shape them into some vague notion of responsible, loving, mature young men over their couple of decades in our care, they are separate and independent and amazing little people with their own personalities, wills, and choices to make. It’s amazing that I get to play a small role in their lives.

It’s so easy to get beaten down and distracted by daily life with children – the constant messes, the moments that make me shake my head in bewilderment, the frustration that occurs when I measure childhood logic by grown-up standards, the soul-sucking drudgery of making their compliance with my directions my ultimate goal rather than something more meaningful, the fear that this will be the time when they really do hurt each other and do permanent damage, the numbness that develops after tuning out countless fits and learning how to judge the seriousness of a cry from the other room.

If those are the only parts of parenthood that we think about and remember, it’s hard to be happy as a parent.

But today we went to the boys’ open house at school. Brenden showed us around his room like he was proud of it. He played with a friend on the big-kid playground and yelled gleefully for the friend to chase him, a natural leader like I never was. I saw a drawing he’d made of our house, and it actually looked sorta like our house. Jonathan played dress-up in his classroom for at least the dozenth time. He loves being either a fireman or Superman. He loves his teachers. They love him. He plays with cars in the corner, not because we taught him that boys are supposed to like cars, but simply because he does. They are real people. They didn’t even exist a few years ago, yet now they do, growing and changing every day.

We came home and put them to bed. I remember late last night going up to check on Jonathan when he was coughing, just like I’d done other nights when he’d woken up with a nightmare. He wasn’t scared of the large, dark man he could barely see because he knew it was me, that I loved him, and I was here to help. It’s awe-inspiring to hear my two-year-old say, “Thank you, Daddy,” after I give him a drink or tuck him back into bed.

Tonight I put Brenden to bed, and he figured out how to break my concentration and relentless focus on the task at hand. I’d finally brought his piggy bank, a gift from our friends Chris and Demona upon his birth, into his room so he could collect his own coins. He found the concept of a piggy bank amusing. As I’m asking him which song he wants me to sing, he starts saying, “Piggy.” I don’t know why he thought it was funny, or how he knew it would break me, but I laughed. He knew he had me then, so he kept doing it and laughing hysterically at my helplessness. I temporarily lost my “control” of the situation, and I just let it go. I sat by his bed laughing with my son. It felt like we were actually friends instead of parent and child. And I liked it. We agreed upon “Old McDonald Had A Farm.” And yes, Old McDonald had a piggy tonight.

After they were asleep, I looked through the pictures Jenny had taken of the open house. I was blown away by what I saw. Their lives, their personalities, leapt through the pictures into my soul, as if I were seeing them for the first time. Those beautiful boys belong to us, to God, to the world. I don’t deserve them, but I’m glad they are a part of my life anyway.

I want to see them this way much more often.