She is in our bed again, face pressed so close to mine that our noses bend. She wakes intermittently, each time tightening her arms like part of a staccato dance. Her starfish hands squeeze and release, squeeze and release me like I'm a stress ball. Perhaps I am.
I've slept maybe four hours a night for the past week, perhaps month, and the tension creeps up my neck like a vine spreading. I sleep without a pillow so I can face her and cradle her, my precious girl with strawberry hair feathering. She is one now and shouldn't be in our bed (I'm told) but she is.
We have our nightly routine: drink a bottle, sway in the darkness, lie down in the crib to sleep. Then I exit her room carefully, step on floorboards like stones in a creek.
There is silence until 12:30, 1:30, or 3:00 AM, when suddenly there's a strident cry that is jolting, followed by crying so alarming I think she must be terrified, and then I am terrified, running clumsily to sweep her up, have her sleep with us.
I'm not supposed to (I'm told) and yet I do.
I pull back the covers, lie her down between my husband and me. She reaches out and inches in toward me, leaves no room between us. I find myself thinking about things like carbon dioxide and how she's 25 lbs and how is that possible and how her eyes are like her grandmother's and her skin is so soft and I really must trim her nails.
I think about how I have work tomorrow and we need more sunscreen and I have to pack lunches and I wish she wouldn't throw all vegetables on the floor and I need to scrub the shower walls and I hope she is happy.
I think about how I could study her face forever. That this is treasured time with her. That this is sacred time. That this is comforting time. That this is bonding time. That I'm so very lucky.
I think about how this is keeping her from waking her sister, this is letting us all get some sleep. That nights won't always be like this.
In the early morning I place her back in her crib. She sleeps while I shower, hurriedly apply makeup. Soon she awakens with hair mussed, mood quickly improving as I talk excitedly, get her and her sister ready for the day.
I pour two cups of coffee, then tea at lunch. I give myself moments to breathe. I remember that these are the precious and priceless days. That we are filling them up and soaking them in. That we do what we do the best we can.
(We do what we do the best we can.)