School hasn’t even been in session a month and the change is palpable. I greet each day reminding myself it’s an accomplishment, but in truth, each day comes with a tinge of loss. The pudgy arms of my memory are replaced by sinewy, gangly limbs that hold for a second less than I expect. The kisses I give are declared to be “too many” and my input is not really needed. Even as I stifle my gasp I know we are not even close to how dark it will be, how obsolete I will become.

I snickered the other day, but Sean’s banishment from the bath routine should have been a clue. I do got more time now, but on the other side my eviction will be more verbal, coming in clearly articulated demands for distance rather than in nuanced turns and blushes. I did not expect to be refereeing this kind of sibling cruelty so early. I’d been prepared to rail against Teen Beat and Seventeen, never imagining that “ugly” and “dumb” would come at 6, 4 and 2. My plans to battle image and confidence are foiled as I realize how ill prepared I am.

Consecutive nights of sending someone to bed early are taking their toll. Last night, after everyone was tucked in and on their way to the land of nod I made my rounds. The absence of baby is less evident at night, the jagged lines of their legs and the lush curve of their lips are vulnerable and mine. No attitude, no questioning, just my sleeping babies. I stood at the edge of her bed, a primal keening clamoring against my insides as I imagined scooping her in my arms and murmuring away the reproachments of earlier.

I long to end each day with everyone having been successful. Sometimes I wonder if I want it for myself, to avoid the guilt, or if I want it for them to avoid the hurt and embarrassment. I know this growing up gig can’t come without punishment and I know it is nearly upon us. As I watch them sleep I keep my arms to my sides and let my lips hover just above their skin. I whisper over and over again how much I love them. I promise to have the strength to hold up my end of the bargain so that I can prepare them for the lives they have ahead of them.

I wish it were easier, I wish I were better at it, but most of all, I hope they’ll know how hard I tried.