“I’m having that feeling again.”
My 9-year-old daughter has her arms wrapped around my waist. One cheek is pressed against my stomach. I’ve just spent the last hour reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to her and her brother, and now I’m trying to extricate myself from the area. She’s gotten out of bed and cornered me in the hallway. They both know how much this bugs me. They know how annoyed I get when I sit with them, talking or reading way past bedtime, and then they pull a “Scratch my back” or “Just one more hug.” It flips my switch faster than turning off the light.
“What feeling,” I say, trying not to grit my teeth.
“Like I can’t stop hugging you. And I don’t want to be without you. Like after my first sleepover.”
I remember how she had so much fun at her friend’s house but felt so strange afterward. Like she’d taken a glimpse through the doorway out of Neverland and realized that someday she’d have to walk through it.
“Is this because you spent so much time away from us today?” I ask.
“I think so.” She looks up at me, eyes filled with concern. “I’m getting too big.” Over the past year, she’s gotten long and lanky. I forget how tall she is, and I accidentally sit on her feet when she’s under the covers. But standing here, in her Belle princess nightgown, she looks so small. And I’m grateful. Because I know what she means, and she’s right.
It’s going too fast.
I hoist her up under the arms, and she wraps her legs around my waist. She drapes her arms over my shoulders and melts into my chest. We stand there for who knows how long. Enough time to make a memory. Enough time for me to take in the details: the weight of her body in my arms; the feeling of her hair on my cheek; the slippery material of her nightgown in my hands.
“You’re still my little,” I say. “You’ll always be my little.”
I squeeze her tight and let her slip to the floor. I mentally thank myself for all the times I decided to carry her when she could’ve walked. I wonder when I won’t be able to pick her up anymore.
She looks at me, still sad, still concerned. I bend down to kiss her and blow a raspberry into her neck. She bursts into fits of laughter.
“Hey! Don’t do that!” she says. Of course I do it again.
“Okay, go to bed. You have another big day tomorrow,” I say. She hugs me one more time and heads back to her room.
I walk downstairs and leave my little one to tuck herself back in.