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growing up

You Never Know When it Will Be the Last Time

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I don’t think I realized when she began sleeping through the night. Sure, she’s done it on and off for the last few years, the rollercoaster of toddler sleep cycles: alternating bouts of smooth, uphill climbs with no night-waking at all, interspersed with sudden, steep declines marked by nightmares at 2 a.m., 3 a.m., and 4 a.m. in rapid succession.

But the other night it struck me that I couldn’t even call to mind her last mid-night visit. Couldn’t remember the last time I was stirred from sleep by the warmth of her breath rolling across my cheek, whispers of “Mama,” and bright eyes peering in the blackness just above the mountain of blankets.

And it’s exactly as it should be. This year, she started public school, which means she hasn’t aged only in years, but seems to age in maturity on an almost hourly basis. More than that, she’s tired. Physically and emotionally depleted in ways I never imagined were possible at the budding age of 5. And so she sleeps. Long, deep, replenishing slumbers, often waking later than the rest of the house.

And as it seems to go with all phases of childhood, I hadn’t realized we passed a threshold until we were into this next room. And as it seems to go with all phases of parenting, I thought wistfully of all the nights her small, warm body curled into mine, legs tangled in blankets, curls splayed wildly across my pillow and my face. My rearview mirror wasn’t just tinged with rose color, it was dripping in fact-obscuring, rose-colored paint, obliterating every true moment behind me.

Because of course it wasn’t like that. Of course I was tired, and frustrated, and cursing the night (and her, if we’re being honest), and struggling to wake, and shower, and be.

But that isn’t what we remember when it’s gone. When it’s gone, our memories eviscerate, on some level, the “Me.” And what we’re left with are our senses of “Her.” How her hair emanated a scent designed specifically to weaken my knees. The soft, buttery finish of her skin. The intoxicating sound of her breath in, out, and in again. The very fact of her beating heart a mysterious and mind-blowing miracle.

And yet, when my younger daughter awoke two short nights later, I was snapped back to the present. Kicking myself for staying up until 11 p.m. Cursing her for waking up at 3 a.m., and refusing to sleep at 3:30. Or at 4. Or at 4:30.

And at 5 a.m., she asked for an apple, please. Her new game to avoid sleep. She has eaten an apple a night, every night, for the last two weeks. I scolded her, “You’ll be 2 in a few short months. You’re getting too old for these games.” But I carried her, begrudgingly, in the dark, down the stairs, and dutifully washed the apple, slicing it into two giant chunks as she likes, and passed them to her, for no other reason than to keep her cries from waking the rest of the house.

And as I trudged back up, me toting her, her toting her apple slices, I thought (as one does in the bleary, mind-numbing nothingness of 5 a.m. thoughts) about the irony of the season of apples. How my daughter’s favorite sweet treat is born and ripened at a time when the rest of our surroundings are aging, and falling, and burrowing to prepare for the still, dead cold of winter. But not the apples. And not my youngest daughter. Born, as she was, in the first week of the new year. Life sprung vividly and boldly in a season when everything else seems to sludge and freeze and cease to be. And in that moment, I was able to acknowledge that this new year and her impending birthday will be followed more promptly each year with the next. I was able to raise myself from the frustration and the haze and remember that I will never know when she will have asked for her last sunrise apple, until it’s passed.

And as she nibbled on her slices, we climbed back into my bed. I lay my head on the pillow, closed my eyes, vowing to relax, and listened as the sound of the smallest crunch filled the dark in the smallest hour of the morning. And as if to repay me for taking the moment, she leaned down, and pressed her cheek to mine, blowing the sweet, warm breath of apple across my face. I filled my lungs fully, remembering, right now, the apple-laced memory of tomorrow.


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