I walked behind the wagon. Sean pulled the girls, Briar sitting in front and facing me, Avery craning her neck to watch me. The sky overheard taunted us with threats of rain, but we were undeterred, the girls wanted to swing. We arrived at the park and the girls scampered out of the wagon to run to touch the bright, shiny structures.

“Swings, mama, swings. A slide. Daddy a a slide. It’s BLUE!”

“A slide. A swing. A-ree runnin’, mama!”

We took turns shepherding the girls through the park, standing closer as they scaled the various rock climbing pieces and stepping back as they confidently darted across bridges and stairs. The balance was there, the girls aware we were there, but feeling unfettered.

Briar was climbing a particularly tricky rocky incline and I stepped over to help, my hand falling easily into the familiar cup shape I’ve always used to cradle her bottom. I lifted my hand to hold her, but she moved up, so I continued lifting my arm to be there if she faltered. The backs of her legs quivered, little tendons and muscles straining to lift her body, just as I felt her body touch my hand, she was gone, popping up and over the edge of the structure.

She leapt to the other side and I watched as she ran in a direct line, no careening from the momentum of her jump, no stumbling with nerves as she neared the edge. She ran between the rails as if she’d cavorted on this playground every day for a year, instead of twice in the last 8 months.

Her pale legs poked delicately out of her madras shorts, strong calf muscles winking at me as she ran, her form growing smaller as her legs carried her farther and farther from me. Looking down at my hands I sighed, large veins criss cross my hands, scars dot my knuckles, and creases map the outsides of my hands in a way they didn’t before. My reverie was broken as Briar darted back into view. Her legs are covered in bruises and scratches, some new with stories still untold, while others chronicle spills in the yard and banged-in-stroller-derby explosions. A year ago the map of her experiences was not so bold, there were less scabs and bruises, a smaller library. All mine.

Briar was on top of the slide now, one hand gently touching Avery, I placed a hand on my belly and smiled. They stayed a perfect portrait before launching down the slide and sprinting across the park. The baby kicked and my hand rubbed her, a familiar cradling motion facing inward. My eyes burned as the enormity of what lay ahead hit. Briar will start preschool in the fall, she’ll climb these structures without me. She’ll come home filled with breathless stories and new aspirations, and as her legs swing beneath her stool, the kisses of the day she has had will blossom in brilliant purples and greens and yellows, and as familiar as her little body will always be to me, the intimacy of her story will become more and more her own. To share, nor not.

My hands will always return to cradle and catch her, long after the daughter within me has retraced the ascent of her sisters and climbed beyond my reach, still I’ll stand, ready to catch them. Dying to touch them. And knowing that even as I feel hollow, the precious badge of having given them flight will sit firmly in the creases of my hands.

Oh, Briar, you will always be my first.