Last night I went to say good night to my not so terribly little daughter. I curled up next to her, wrapped my arms around her, and begged her to close her eyes and go to sleep. I wanted to drink her in and, for once, have her fall asleep next to me. She’s never been able to do that. Countless times, she’s fallen asleep in my arms, back when she was my nursling.But even then, I had to get her in bed before she’d been out too long because Edie was not able to stay asleep anywhere but in her own bed. Once, somewhere around her second birthday after she’d moved from a crib into a twin sized bed, I snuggled up with her hoping that with this new found space, maybe now we could doze off together. But after a few minutes, she patted my cheek and said “Mama, go see Daddy.” I was able to laugh then and be on my way, but last night, I was trying to hold time still and keep her at two for as long as I could. But, it’s not a child’s job to soothe her parent, and I managed to leave my not-at-all-sleeping kid before she wondered what I was up to.
Because she would wonder, before long. Nothing distresses her more than seeing me in distress.The handful of times I’ve banged my head or stubbed my toe with such force I wasn’t able to laugh it off, she’s oftentimes fallen at my feet, trembling, waiting for me to smile. These days if she thinks I’ve hurt myself, she jogs over chanting, “It’s ok. It’s ok, mom. It’s ok.” Half reassurance, half question. When it’s physical pain, I am quick to let her know that it isok, but I have a harder time when what’s wrong is day three of a grinding headache caused by her screaming brother and exacerbated by exhaustion. I don’t want to shield her from all negative emotions, but I do want her to trust that her mom, in the end, is always ok. Usually this takes the form of an explanatory talk once cooler heads can prevail.
My sensitive girl. I know that I’m toughest on my Edie, pushing her behave, speaking to her like an adult, pressing her to explain her thoughts and feelings, and encouraging her to play on her own. But this does not mean that she does not both break and light up my heart, nor is my toughness itself always the right call. Just a few weeks ago I saw her dancing around near a group of her friends, looking hesitant and wide-eyed. I stepped closer and heard a classmate whom I know Edie adores say “This is only for big kids. You can’t sit down.” And I may have wanted to let her work this out, but instead I said flatly in my best Tony Soprano-esque low voice, “She’s big enough. Go ahead and sit down, honey.” Best believe that no one argued with me.
When Edie woke up today, I pulled her into bed with me. Again, looking to hang on. I whispered “happy birthday” and held her tight. But Eli woke up, and the school day was approaching, so I had to chase her- and drag myself – out of that warm bed and get started on this day that would tick by, just like all the rest. I’d made her a birthday present: a “this is your life” style book that chronicled the highlights of her first thirty-six months. It crushed me to make, but I knew she’d love it, since she had been asking all kinds of questions about her life since her brother was born. Edie has wanted to know about her birth story, where she’s lived, and what she’s done. So this was my way of telling her. I couldn’t wait for this evening to give it to her, so I brought it out before breakfast. She climbed in my lap and I read it. Half way through, I looked down at her face and saw she was getting really overwhelmed. I said, “hey, what’s up.” Then the tears began to fall. Quiet sobbing, not in pain or anger. I asked her what was wrong – a silly reflex, considering I don’t think adults are typically capable of fully grasping the “what” in that question during the heat of the moment. She mumbled something about a beloved water bottle that she had lost and missed.I held her tight and promised I’d get her a new one. I asked if she wanted me to keep reading and she nodded fervently. So I did. And then it was over, too.
In a flash, she was out the door, armed with her new book and a lunch filled with her favorite things, and her Dad balancing two giant containers of minicupcakes for her class to have today. Tonight, we are getting a sitter for two hours to come and watch baby brother so Edie can have a dinner of undivided parental attention. And I am so grateful that for the moment, that is still in the future.
I’m not even really a baby person. I like my own babies (though they confuse and frustrate me to no end), and I have an appreciation for the babies of family and friends. But I’ve never had baby fever. I’m a kid person, and my Edie is truly a kid now. It is fun and only getting better. I joke that my kids took my youth and beauty. I mean, I joke, but it’s true. But they take so much more than that. They take your armor, expose you to the truth that you control nothing. And that has been a bitter pill for me to swallow. That it all goes by so fast is a cliché, no doubt. But what else is there to say? Nothing this hard, this magical, this grueling, this gorgeous could do anything but pass quickly, or else no one could bear it.
Happy Birthday, Edie! If I had it to do over, I think I would. I don’t know that I could do better, but I can’t lie and say I wouldn’t want to try. I love you so much it hurts, but I’d never want to go a moment without it.