Stories circle me, pooling at my feet, wrapping around my ankles and snaking up my leg. They cling to me like yesterday’s sun and I smile, the warmth of the forgotten moments surprising me throughout the day.

And oh, these days, they attack me from the other direction, dawn coming after the first requests to get up, the emails pinging and clanging even before I take my first blessed sip of coffee. Before I make it out the door my heart is already racing, the weight of things put off for dinner together and bedtime snuggles, come back untempered by the break.

I twist and sigh and then they come. The flash of sunlight on shiny metal as the last bits of sundress and braid slip past and down the slide. The cool wet touch of bedtime water kisses. The third cup of my cheek (yes that one) until I finally giggle and let go.

My stories, my salvation in seconds.

We were on a getaway for Ave’s birthday when Briar asked me to go with her on an enclosed water slide. I shook my head distractedly and said, “Honey, maybe go with dad.” She broke me from my fog by standing still and facing me to ask, “Why?” I didn’t even think as I said, “Dark places scare me.” She squeezed my hand and immediately said, “I’ll keep you safe.”

I carry that squeeze and promise with me into the moments that feel like a battlefield during my day.

Sean was out of town for a few days and as we settled in for dinner Avery asked me about going to the playground the next day. Trying to balance a need to not do it all and a desire to not disappoint I said, “It’s hard to go with all 3 of you girls and only one parent. It’s tough because Fin really likes to slide and you want to get pushed on the swings and mama just can’t do both.” I stroked her hair and promised when dad came home, we’d go. Several hours later at bed time, “Mom, when you take us to the park and it’s just you, I promise to only go on the slides and pirate ship and other stuff.”

How can little ones be so wise, while us big people falter so?

During that same water park stay Finley began a complicated love affair with water. She swirled and swam, flitting this way and that alternately fascinated by the feel of water between her toes and the way the air cooled her arms as they hovered over the pool. Finally, wrinkly from swimming and playing in the water, she showed me her fingers with a worried look, “Wha’s dat?” I smiled, kissed a fingertip and explained it was from being in the water for so long. She looked confused, shook her fingers and then proceeded to try to lick and suck the wrinkles away. When they didn’t go away she gave me a another look, raised her eyebrows and kept licking.

Persistence, hope and wonder.

These girls, this life—security, cooperation and delicious wrinkles.