Bedtime tonight was unusually tender, perhaps it was the exhaustion and gratitude of another day of front porch fort play near mom and post work day frolicking at the park with mom and dad. After a shared dinner of cold sandwiches and laughter we made our way upstairs for a bath and then bed. The girls played and complied as we rinsed half the backyard from their scalps and between their toes, careful as we went over their matching tailbone bug bites. After very little play they both asked to get out.

The postbath ritual has become a game of hide and seek in Avery’s room, which entails Briar scurrying onto the bed and covering most of her dewy little body with a towel. Avery squeals, Briar squeals, and my heart tears. This time is so dear, from the intoxicating scent of clean skin and the flirtatious skipping of ringlets on neckline, to the arresting vulnerability of bedtime eyes. I struggle with cutting it short, with saying that it is indeed bedtime. Avery helps me, so in tune is she with her own clock. The stroke of eight thirty is her cut off, little hands reach for pink ears, twisting as if to turn herself to sleep.

Tonight, after lowering Avery, already asleep with hair still damp, onto a freshly made bed, I tiptoed to Briar’s room. The hum of Avery’s fan behind me soothed more in idea than actual breeze. The narrow hallway was stuffy, the heat from the day clinging to the walls and nipping at the skin on my neck. Briar waited, clad in mismatched pajamas of her choosing, a long sleeved pink camo top and bright striped full length leggings on bottom. I felt prickly twinges along my entire torso, sweat popping, at the sight of so much clothing and knowing she would insist on the fleece princess blanket to boot.

“Mommy give me little bit a tiny bit of lotion on my back. Just a little bit a tiny? And water. I need water.”

“Ok, honey.”

I massage the lotion into her back, gentle bumps of spine press against my palm, piercing me with their reminder of her fragility. I lean into her, pressing my face into the curls on her head. She stirs beneath me and beside me, her hand reaches behind and covers mine.

“I love you, honey.”

It is her voice, not mine.

“I love you too,” I manage to breathe.

“Little bit a tiny, mama?”

“Of course, honey. Mama loves rubbing your back.”

“Sit in the chair? Will you sit in the chair after the lotion?”

“You bet.”

“Thank you mama. I’n lovin’ you soo much.”

I cannot bear it. In these moments I feel such a primal need to be here. To never leave. I want to take residence in this time when I am able to give them what they need. Able to protect them and love them. I want to promise these girls that I will always be here, will always sit in the chair, always be willing to give just a little bit of tiny bit more. I don’t say that though. I say that I will always be loving them. I fear letting them down in life and in death.

I am trying to balance my appetite for more with the responsibility I know I have to provide structure. Most nights I do ok, others, like last night, I don’t do quite as well. Sean found me asleep in Briar’s bed, my arms wrapped around her, an hour after bedtime. She had asked to cuddle and no didn’t feel like an acceptable answer. It was the sweetest sleep I’ve had in months. Not a habit to get into, but ccertainly not harmful in the big picture, one little bit of extra bedtime time.

Tonight she went to bed with little fanfare. Lotion, water, a hug, two kisses and one more hug. I crept down the stairs and paused at the bottom, waiting for a cry. She was silent, asleep before I made it down. I sighed thinking how I would have liked to have gone back up.

And now, typing by the light of the monitor I cannot help but wonder how one lifetime will ever be enough. I ache for tomorrow when I’ll hold them again, my ears already yearning to hear their voices and a smile on my lips at the thought of what they might do and that whatever it is, I’ll be seeing it as their mom.