It never ends. I am still checking on the girls every night.
I’m sure my mom is chuckling now, silently mouthing to the screen, “I still check on you.”

Nights when Sean is working late I slip through the squeakiest door in our house to sneak upstairs. We usually leave the bathroom fan running to mask the sound of the tv downstairs, or the whistle of the tea kettle. It doesn’t work, but it makes us feel better – that and the fan was the single hardest thing to install in this godforsaken, nightmare, money pit of an ancient house charming city home, so it feels good to use it. The poor thing will probably let fly a death sputter shortly for the overuse it has endured. No matter, we can no sooner stop turning it on, then an athlete on a winning streak could forgo the lucky underwear.

I tread delicately on the edges of the steps to outfox the creaks of our old house. Just at the moment I touch the banister to take the final step, the stairs, without fail, shudder and bleat a shrill exclaim as I cower uselessly in the corner, accomplishing nothing more than to make more noise as the wooden boards groan beneath me. I curse the creaks. Ella usually responds with a window rattling shake of her collar as I pass our bedroom door and lift my leg over the baby gate. Clang. I continue to miscalculate the height of the gate or overestimate the length of my inseam, and the gate rattles, echoing up and down the hallway. Briar stirs, Avery sighs, the cat darts up the stairs, hops on the railing, realizes I am there and does an “Oh shit” triple salchow and careens back downstairs, inciting the dog to give chase. Loudly. It is all I can do not to stomp my feet and curse the spirits that conspire against me in my quest for stealth approach.

Somehow I make it to each room without waking either girl. Avery sleeps with her face pressed against the furthest corner of her crib. She has always loved it, the place that for Briar had been nothing but trauma. The chewed edges of the railing remind me of the nights we tended to Briar, her face streaked with tears, her lips white with paint chip polka dots. The sleepers Avery wears belonged to Briar, the size difference between the girls has bridged what would have been a season innappropriateness. The drawers of her dresser are open and empty, save for one. Briar has been to visit and taken it upon herself to reorganize. I close the drawers and lean into the crib to kiss the apple of Avery’s cheek. Her face is the color of frosted cookies, swirls of pink, violet and white. She turns into the kiss and sighs, the smell of her breath filling the space between us. This smell soothes me, it is the fragrance of joy, the scent of my completion.

In Briar’s room, the dark railings of her big girl bed take me back to the day we bought it, months before Avery’s arrival. Watching her gleefully jump on the only non-pastel, non-cutesy bed in the store as the weight of her sister to be presssed down on me, a leg kicking my belly as if trying to push aside the covers. Beneath four tiny fingers, the nails ragged from a biting habit that breaks my heart for the worrying it betrays, is a baby toy. A small frog kidnapped from her sister. Her rosy cheeks are framed by auburn curls, I trace a finger along the swell of her cheek and the line of her jaw. Her face is changing, it’s becoming more slender. She’s shedding, more gossamer layers of little girl fluttering to the floor as the arresting beauty of the woman she will be presses its way to the surface. She stirs. I know I must go, so I touch her quilt and tiptoe to the hall.

I stand between the doors so that I can hear the breathing of each child, my girls. They are as different as the sun and moon, yet in each I see the other. This house is already echoing their sounds, the morning exclamations for a new day and the evening calls for comfort. This house has another echo. It is the whisper that soothes them. As I walk back to my room the floor creaks, it is the song of being caressed in the night and embraced at the dawn. It is the sound of mom.

Sweet dreams my sweets.