Avery spent weeks walking around the house with her mouth open wide, like dislocate her jaw wide. She’d run to us, arms outstretched and plant that perfect pink “o” on our cheeks. Kisses, so many kisses. Standing in her path, waiting for a glistening, wet Avery love imprint I would laugh, throwing my head back and shaking, my own mouth open as wide as hers. Briar would run and duck, distressed by the idea of a slobbery kiss, which only made us laugh harder. It was a sweet moment in time.

Was, as seems to be with so many of these amazing unencumbered by bashfulness or forethought actions of our girls, the tradition has passed. Avery doesn’t run to kiss us, doesn’t pursue her sister in the name of sisterly slobber love. There are still kisses, but for the most part her mouth is closed, her need to kiss replaced by an irrepressible need to climb. And climb.

Now, when I call to her for kisses she grins at me, aware of the power of her answer. I wait, hopeful, please, just one more, one more slobbery-love-you-with-all-my-baby-soft-self kiss. She giggles and cranes her neck, “Dada?” It never changes, each request is met by a call and searching for dada. I am at once jealous and proud, she loves him, adores him! And yet, still I want that kiss, but somehow I muster the strength to not pressure, to not beg.

When I put her to bed each night she calls for her baby and her bear. I place them in her arms and she pulls them to her face with an emphatic, “Mmm-waaah.” After kissing and hugging her two little bed buddies, she holds them in her arms and pats them energetically while cooing. This natural exploration of nurturing makes me ache, hinting at the day when she will pat her own babies. My mind wanders and I imagine the shadows her adult life will cast: the form of her husband, her pregnant belly, children and a job. I try to envision my role, will I be an extension, participating and casting my own shadow, or will I be observing, standing on the perimeter and trying to gain entry.

My reverie is broken as she smiles, the twinkle in her eyes and the glimmer of white teeth behind curved lips, wink at me in the moonlight. Still my baby. Her smile reassures me, though much will change, this time of nursing and cooing, patting and laughing will always be true. And then, it is there. The buddies fall to her sides and she stretches her arms wide, her gaze floats up from the crib, a whisper on my face, her mouth opens wide and her toes flutter as she waits for my face. I lean into the crib and she kisses me, an imprint on my soul and a promise forever.