I give her little face a kiss and she tucks her head into the crook of my neck. I smell like a mama, she smells strongly of bubbles and strawberries, a result of her affinity to sneaking the soap bar when she's fully clean and my hastiness to pull the tub stopper as the water gets chilly.
I knelt by the tub tonight, watching her soap her own toes and firmly refusing to brush her teeth. I swept a washcloth behind her ears, under her curvy chin, and wondered: how long she will need me yet? As I scooped water into the palm of my hand to rinse the day away, I glimpsed a bigger girl with memories and stories to spill out, with an eagerness and lightness of her father's and a the voice of a dreamer like me. Her hair swirled down around the top of her neck in a way I had never seen it do before, tracing rivulets down her spine and joining the bath again. My heart whispered: will I always know her this well?
The night is long at times, spent shuffling (those ever growing) little feet back under the blankets and getting up for water, worrying over my two dearest loves as they sleep, as if they were both my children, and I suppose in a very primal way they are. Both are sound in my nest all night, tucked around one another and oblivious to this mama's dually committed heart thrumming away, wanting to hold them both at once.
I fear her growing because I'm terrified I haven't got it down. I want longer to get it right before she will know that I am misguided, before she sees my faults. Eventually I'm sure she will recognize me as a pawn. I don't know the rules. I don't know the steps, I can't dance this fast and in these shoes.
As I scooped her from the tub and she pressed her face into the crook of my neck, we went in search of pajamas for the night. Pulling from the basket nearest me, I found my fingers wrapped around a tiny set of pajamas too small for any girl of mine. These were hers nearly two winters ago, just as we were seated deep in worry about our future, cold and jobless with no hope or vision for that to change, when there were too many hours each day spent sitting in classrooms waiting to graduate so I could hold my daughter whenever I pleased; hoping that my classmates didn't see my breasts leaking, at times wondering that they did not smell my fear that this route they celebrated with joy I counted as hell and yearned for it to end.
Darker hours in the shivering winter spent fighting with Pappa because my heart was never in school again, I could spare it all just to be a mamma. These were the pajamas she wore the morning we drove to the polls to vote for idealistic "Change," and the morning my sweet friend Jessy came to visit after her weekly Chemo battering. She smiled and yet looked faint, she sang to my wee babe about teething gums while I worried about my girl, who had immediately fixed herself on this splendid friend to investigate her thoroughly- I hope that my own girl will be as open-minded, loving and generous each step of the way as this beautiful young woman I am blessed to know.
This instinct to protect is not exclusive to the faces we see and love each day. It is not limited to the hands we hold or gently scold, and the tiny feet that pitter-patter and sometimes "THRUMP!" around, making tangible progress and marking the traits that will be theirs for life right before our eyes. It is for the children we don't get to hold, the ones we were ourselves, the ones we see on the television while their mother's wail. These children, these little sparks that flash for only a moment, that always have to face the cold with empty tummies, they are why my heart is breaking for my own. I stood in front of my mother when I was seven and told her I wanted to save all of the orphans, and asked her why we didn't try to help. Her reasoning was complicated and altogether simple at the same moment, yet her theory fell deaf to my ears and I am sure that day I stopped believing in universal love.
This is the joy called motherhood, I share it with many strong and willing women now, and before me. Surely more will come after me as well. Some bear a multitude of souls into the world and some never kiss a single tear frosted cheek, but all have willing, loving, open hearts. We swap tips and laughs and fears. We all dream big, and none of us wants our children to resist our open arms. This is the joy called motherhood. It is the voice of universal love.
Do something kind for another person today. Do it for your heart, and mine, which needs reminding that humanity is always embraced by mothers.