I look over to my right and see her eyes are closed.
Gently, I lean over, confirming that her usually wildly expressive face and chatty mouth have gone soft with sleep. It crept in at some point during the movie while I was distracted, pressing on her until she couldn’t fight anymore, urging her to drop her lids and watch the sweet stories inside her head, instead.
My chest tightens and I smile, knowing the task ahead.
Quietly, I crawl out of my corner of the couch, pull the coffee table aside, and assess the logistics of what I need to do. This time she dragged her Minions blanket and giant blue bunny down here with her, so I put Bunny in front of her, tuck the blanket around her, and scoop all three of them up into my arms.
My bare feet feel out for trip hazards she and her brother likely left in my path as I navigate the dim basement from couch to stairs. Holding her tighter, I carefully climb 17 steps with 50 pounds of little girl, favorite toy, and fluffy blanket. The weight doesn’t bother me—only the worry of banging her head or dangly legs on a doorjamb does.
I won’t always get to do this. I won’t always be the person she can comfortably doze off beside, knowing I will make sure she lands where she’s supposed to at the end of the night. I won’t always be the one she wants to watch movies with. I won’t always be the one whose arms she craves. I won’t always be the one she defaults to when she needs something, has news to share, tears to shed, laughter to give. These are parts of motherhood that will fade away as she grows.
As I take the step from plush stairway to the cool hardwood flooring of the main hall, I reflexively lean over to shadow her face from the bright overhead lighting. Sounds of my husband typing away with ESPN playing behind him crackle out of his office, so I whisper shhh over her ears to keep them from jarring her awake, and turn the corner to take our next flight. I notice my son sitting on the chair behind my husband, his interest in what’s on the screen stronger than what’s going on with me outside the door or maybe he’s deliberately ignoring me so I don’t encourage him to get ready for bed yet.
It’s hard to tell now. He’s my eldest child, clever and changing and wanting to be grown-up but still with that delicious smile he smiled before he had a single tooth. That smile can both end me and begin me. It’s not there now as he focuses on the screen, illuminated in the flatscreen’s flashes and washes of light as the day’s sports highlights play before him. I pull my eyes away from him and look at my bundle. The sounds, the light, they cause her to stir, throwing me a bit off-balance, and I bounce her back against my chest, willing her lids to stay closed. They do. I click off the upstairs light with my elbow, and we climb.
Fifteen more steps up with this load in my arms are nothing to me. I know I can do this. I don’t need to ask for help or doubt we can make it all the way up without incident. I have done far more difficult things since becoming a mom, and know all too well that the truly hard stuff has yet to come. I know I will not drop her for I am holding on with all I have.
We make it into her room, which has not—despite her earlier insistence—been tidied up. I shimmy around ponies and art and dolls and more art until I reach the edge of her unmade bed. With a knee, I manage to slide the blankets aside enough to lay her down in her favorite spot. A little maneuvering of her legs, and I untangle the sheets to tuck her in. Bunny to her right, Minion blanket to her left, bedding up to just below her chin. Looking down at her, I feel like I lost my favorite blanket again. The shadow of warmth is still there, but the weight I need to feel settled in is gone.
I do not know how many more times I will get to carry her like this. I do not know how much longer she will stay my little girl. I do not know exactly when she will be too big for my arms, too big for me to tuck her in, too big for me to be exactly what I am to her right now. The moment is never a moment. It’s something I’ll notice has passed without my ever witnessing it, and I dread it. I dread it. So I will treasure the weight she’s willing to give me for as long as she lets me carry it.
I will breathe in her scent of maple and markers that she leaves on me when we get this close and commit it to memory. I will believe in my ability to lift her every time she needs me to, safely bring her to where she needs to be, and leave her when it is time to go.
A huff momentarily breaks the silence of her room as she turns and curls up on her side before going still again. I smooth the covers down over her one more time, kiss her head, and back out of her bedroom with a silent wish for a night of sweet dreams as I whisper, “I love you.”