As I write this, my daughter is downstairs with her papa. He just finished making her a princess crown out of tinfoil. She has on a hand-me-down Disney dress, second-hand tap dance shoes and her hair is in the same messy bun she woke up with. She’s twirling around in the living room like she’s at a regal ball.
She’s come upstairs to my office three times to give me a hug and tell me she loves me. Her entire world is contained in the roughly 1200 square feet that comprise our tiny home. Here, she is the queen of her own universe. She can be a pirate after breakfast, a jungle explorer in the afternoon and a magician before bedtime. Her latest favorite magic trick? Convincing us that she made an entire cup of water disappear “before thin air” while she stands right in front of us and drinks it.
She turned four a few months ago and I can already tell she’s losing some of the baby-isms that were so endearing during those earlier stages of her life. She rarely says “whobody” anymore, replacing it with “who.” She knows how to say spaghetti, how to hold a colored pencil and how to write her name.
Last week, as I was reading to her on the side porch like I always do in the late afternoons while her brother naps, she gently took the book from my hands and asked if she could read it to me instead. I was impressed and excited that she wanted to take over those reigns, but I can’t say I wasn’t just a little bit disappointed. That was “our thing.” I’d read, and she’d lie her head on my lap, letting me smooth her hair back while she’d almost fall asleep, but never fully.
Now it feels as though this small switch-up is just inching us one step closer to her independence. The truth is, though I bury my face against her cheek and remind her over and over again that she will always be my baby no matter if she’s four or 104, there will come a time when she doesn’t look to me for the answer to everything.
One day, she’ll know for herself why the sky is blue, why our ears are attached to our head, what those numbers on the clock mean, and if puppies live forever. If her current height is any indication, she’ll likely be a full head taller than me by the time she graduates high school.
In many ways, I feel like her sidekick, her pal. Like I’m taking a backseat, spectator role to the beauty that is her unfolding life. And I can grab ahold of any strings she throws my way and try to keep her in miniature form for as long as I can, but there will come a day when she gets home from school, grabs her homework and heads to go study, our days swinging and reading on the porch a faint and distant memory.
I hope that even then, she still knows that she can come to me with anything. I hope she still wants to lie her head in my lap and let me run my fingers through her beautiful brown hair. I hope she sees within me an advocate, a confidant, a stronghold and a warrior. I hope I can teach her to honor and understand her vision, her goals, her rights and her dreams. I look at her, still a toddler in many ways and about to start her last year of preschool again next week, and I see someone with so much to admire, love, cherish and adore. I can only hope she sees the same in me.
As mothers, we pour so much of ourselves into the daily ins and outs of the week. We scrub dishes, prep meals, find the favorite cartoons, wash dirty dishes, tie and untie shoes a million times, shuttle to here and there and read a million bedtime stories before it’s finally time to call it a night.
So often, during my normal routine, I fail to take a step back and admire the individual moments that comprise the day. I forget to notice how the sunlight gathers in her hair right as she wakes up, or how he moves his arms back and forth furiously and sweetly when he runs.
These little nuances are only here for a time, soon to change into other quirks, idiosyncrasies and character traits. I want to grab ahold of them and lean into them as deeply as I can. While they still think I hang the moon. While they still think I’m cool. While they still think I can answer any curveball they throw my way. If I can be half as genuinely great as my kids think I am, I’ll consider it a life well lived.