I tiptoe in at least twice on either end of their sleep, I weave between three beds wedged in a room more suited to one, with shelves and drawers brimming with flannel and fairy wings on all sides. They sleep as they wake—wide open, tightly curled and impossibly tangled. The moment before I slip my head next to theirs, not knowing whether I’ll meet upturned nose, or ear buried in hair, makes my heart race.
Avery falls asleep first each night, her dark hair swims around her, while her body stays in the position it was when she first drifted off to sleep. When I lean in to kiss her she is still, but as I push up from the bed she always turns into her pillow and murmurs, “I love you mama.” I tap the feet of the fairy that hangs in the window and whisper, “Thank you for watching my girls.”
This space is magic, steeped in the wonder of little girlness, with pieces of memories; from sparkles to skipping stones, that are handled with reverence and purpose in unpredictable cycles. For me they wink with accomplishment—a walk we took, a headband we gussied up at the dining room table with hot glue and jewels, a keepsake of mine that made it across the country and through the years to be tended to by three doting girls. Remnants of a younger me come to nestle on my shoulder as I sway between them.
Near Finley I smile, as I kneel her face turns toward me and her lips meet mine and her arms slip around me, it is her default position and it undoes me. Tendrils of her hair brush against my skin and the still-baby-soft plushness of her cheeks presses on my face, filling the hollow contours of my face and everything but the intoxication of holding my last baby flutters away.
Briar sleeps the thickest, her pale skin glows and strands of sandy blonde hair and dark lashes cast shadows. It’s in these moments, when the rivalry of being the oldest, not being the baby and her needing to lead are quieted, that our relationship pierces me. The echoes of my own personality that resonate in her sometimes make us clash.
“Don’t worry so much.”
“B, don’t try so hard.”
“Be still, my love, you are enough.”
The soft dawn light seeps through the shutters and as the last vestiges of sleep cling to my senses, she is the only one, before sisters and before knowing how excruciating it is to tend to school yard hurts or acknowledge that I can’t do it all. We hover in first-born infatuation, all buoyed with promise and bliss.
I trace her lips with my finger, I can hear the husky sound of her voice, the inimitable lilt and the way she would use her whole body to say things. I lower my head to tickle her brow with a butterfly kiss, knowing that she won’t wake up. She turns away and I watch, trying not to mourn the absence of puffy cheeks and dimpled, chunky thighs. This turning away will grow, our clashing will build, it is a part of the choreography of our destiny, awkward though I’m sure I’ll make it. I find a measure of grace in knowing that I can tiptoe through to this place, my eyes slow with sleep, and my baby still at hand.
Tears threaten and she turns, rosy lips purse, bangs flutter and then, “Morning mama. I felt you loving me.”
And we smile.