You only have your first once. Briar was my storybook first—a glorious pregnancy, no family awkwardness, late summer into fall home-with-baby rapture. Six and a half years and 2 daughters later, her firstness gets eclipsed be her being the eldest. She is pushed hard, punished longer and coddled less. It is unfair and seemingly unavoidable.

I was also a first and an eldest, but it doesn’t stop me from the rut of expecting more and forgiving less. The last year has been difficult as my own awareness of the closing window of babies in our house has rooted me in devouring Fin. So fierce has my desire to soak up every minute been, I have failed to understand the fading moment in time in which Briar is ever so precariously perched.

Her face is all promise, five empty spaces in a mouth framed by ever lovelier lips. Spring-sky blue eyes flash with joy and wickedness when she plays with her sisters and peeks back over her shoulder to check how close we’re listening, how much she can get away with. When she talks her ideas are rich, her thoughts independent, but every so often a word slips in, an invented conjugation of a verb that bring back her firstness and our wonder at her every sound. Her skin, dusted with tiny freckles, still has the milky, opalescent magic it did that first time I held her against my skin.

When she looks at me she measures our similarities, reminds me of freckles she has that match mine and tells me what she loves. She doesn’t question red marks or wrinkles, her empathic intuitiveness about what will hurt me hints at growing up. We try to cuddle like the old days, but our shapes have changed, her limbs are gangly, her muscles taut, my own body is more sculpted, some from hard work, the other I can’t help but think is the ebbing of my own youth to allow the most potent light for my girls.

I have work to do. I know that there is an inevitability of more hardness ahead, clashing. For both our sake I want to be more aware of the choices I make. Last night we found our way back to laced fingers. She lay between my legs, her head against my chest, her foot balanced over mine and our arms braided around us as we watched Tangled. I saw so much of Briar blurring into the scenes and I squeezed her closer to me as I inhaled the scent of her head. She murmured an I love you and looked back at me. “Your eyes are beautiful, mama.” I smiled, “More so when I’m looking at you, baby.”

We turned back to the movie and sighed together. I know I missed quite a bit of the story as I marveled at my sweet Briar, but slipping past the impediments she and I face each day, and simply being together was more than worth it. Later, as I tiptoed into her room and knelt by her bed to kiss her good night the familiar cloak of guilt and worry that I didn’t do quite enough were gone. Her eyes fluttered as she rolled over toward the wall and whispered, “Tonight was a great night, mama. I love you.” I’m not sure if she heard me say, “You are my great light, I love you.”