I used to carry you everywhere, your legs wrapped around my hip and your tiny hand resting on my shoulder. You would start to slip sometimes and I would propel you back up and onto the ledge of my hip in one fluid motion without breaking a stride.
I used to drive and drive for hours. We would go everywhere and nowhere. I learned the roads less traveled as I willed you to close your eyes and slow your breathing. As time went on, the miles and minutes spent on this endeavor steadily increased until the day I realized that I couldn’t drive you to sleep anymore.
I used to kiss you hundreds of times a day. Quick kisses on your forehead, your cheeks, your lips, your belly. Impulsive kisses that I could not control. You didn’t seem to mind. I don’t remember when the kisses stopped as your body grew taller and your soul became distinct from mine.
I used to sing and rock you to sleep. “Maybe.” “Alright for Now.” “Mommy’s Little Girl.” “Tomorrow.” I sang my love for you and my angst for your missing siblings until you melted into sleep and lay slack in my arms.
I used to become impatient with your preference for me, your insistence that I be the parent to meet your needs. Your dad described me as “a victim of my own success.” Of course, I relished your requests on the one hand while simultaneously feeling suffocated by them.
I used to write down every word you said. Literally. I have pages and Word documents detailing your brilliant vocalizations and amusing phrases. I organized them in alphabetical order and printed them on sheets of pastel card stock.
I used to play Mozart’s “Rondo Alla Turca” each night on the piano after you emerged from the bathtub. You would run around the living room wet and naked, waving your arms wildly as we called you “The Nudie Conductor” and laughed and cheered.
I used to tell you stories over and over again. Often they would be the plots of movies you fancied. You’d say, “Talk about it!” And if I didn’t begin speaking quickly enough, “Talk! About! It!” I could recite detailed plot elements and dialogue from Toy Story, Home, Peter Pan and many others. Sometimes I would start drifting off to sleep and veer into total gibberish which, of course, you quickly called out.
I used to keep you home with me every day that I didn’t have to work a shift at the hospital. I used to take you on outings and adventures each day. I wanted nothing less than to be cooped up in the house with a toddler, so we went to all the places toddlers go. And then we went to those places again. And then again. I didn’t do laundry or housework when we were together. I felt compelled to make the most of our time together, for my sake as much as yours.
I used to think that we would be “Mom and Baby” forever. I used to think that we would avoid the mother-daughter strain that seemed to befall other less fortunate couplets. I used to think that I could fix everything and kiss or talk or sing away any sadness.
I used to love you with all my heart.
I still do.