I am sitting on a wooden bench when the door to the nursery school classroom opens and a gang of three-year-olds comes running out in unison, waving their art projects in the air. I spot my daughter at the front of the pack, with her brown hair flying behind her. Her cheeks are pink and flushed.
I resist the urge to run to her. Instead, I keep my seat glued to the hard bench like the other mothers around me.
“Mommy!” she exclaims, and throws her arms around my neck while jumping on my lap. “I had a great day in school,” she continues, detailing her morning to me.
I barely listen. Instead I focus on the feel of her body on my lap and the sweet smell of her hair. I am so relieved to be touching her after our morning apart. My finger traces the colorful marker stains on her hands, evidence of the fun she had without me.
I pull her closer.
The warmth of her body radiates onto mine and I imagine our cells rejoicing at being near each other again. I like to believe that they remember how it all began, how she started as a tiny egg in my womb, just as I did in my mother’s belly.
When she places her small hand in mine, a tingle crawls up my arm, it’s electric: a feeling of coming home.
We walk to the car slowly, lingering, taking our time. I savor each moment.
Some days, my daughter climbs on me and hangs off of my limbs. She demands mac and cheese for dinner and then throws it on the floor. I wipe up the orange gobs of cheesy pasta while fuming at her insolence, wishing I could eat a meal in peace.
When I tell her I need a break from playing princesses, she follows me into the bathroom and dances around. “Can I have some privacy?” I ask. She laughs in response and tries to climb on my lap.
“Mommy, I need you!” she calls out to me during the day, when she wants me to find a her baby doll or get her water or put on her pajamas – all tasks that she is fully capable of doing herself.
During these moments, I long for quiet. I want to stretch out on the sofa without another body on top of mine. I crave space and silence and stillness, all of which seem impossible in my world.
Yet, every single time she comes to me, with her small arms outstretched, I fall into her, like a magnet unable to resist its natural force. I feel it from my own mother too, the way she smiles when she sees me, with her whole face lighting up, eager to hug me.
I wonder if every mother finds her child to be so irresistible.
Later that night, when I help change her into pajamas, she crawls into my shirt, giggling. She tries to stick her head through the neck hole but it gets stuck, so she nestles into my chest instead.
“I am back in Mommy’s tummy!” she exclaims, laughing. I laugh with her, but there is a longing in the sound of my voice.
Come back to me, I silently wish, remembering what it felt like to be attached to her.
Instead I gently pull her out and place her in the toddler bed. She giggles, the sounds bouncing off the ivory walls of her room.
I see my smile in hers and our small noses are the same, stretching back several generations according to my grandmother. Even after three years, I still rejoice at seeing myself in her, a reminder of where she came from.
My daughter reaches her short arms out and they embrace my neck. “Mommy I love you so much!” she says. Her voice elevates on the much, as she pushes her head into my chest. She smells like peanut butter and baby shampoo. I close my eyes and breathe her scent.
“I love you so much too,” I say into her small ear. I imagine the sounds traveling through her ear canal and down straight to her heart.
Does she feel my love there? I want it to burrow inside, so deep that it is etched into her core, so that she will always remember how cherished she is. I want it to fill her up so completely that she can pass it down to her own children.
I don’t have the words for how I feel, so I make do with the phrases I can say out loud: I love you so much. I cherish you. You are my world. None of these sentences are quite right; my love for my daughter is all-encompassing, never ending and absolute.
You are my heart. I suppose that is closer to what I want to say. I whisper it to her as I slowly close the door behind me.
The silence of the hallway welcomes me and I exhale with relief, but my hand feels empty without hers.
She is three now. This means pre-school, drop off activities and playdates without me. This means she will sit and play pretend with her princess dolls for an hour while I cook dinner. She is making friends and finding her own way in this big, beautiful world. The time to myself that I longed for when she was a newborn stretches out before me, and I embrace it, grateful to be emerging from the fog of early motherhood.
Still, I find her to be irresistible. Even as I celebrate her growing up, I cannot ignore my desire to be near her, to hold onto her, to feel her on my lap.
So I pull her to me, closer.