It wasn't supposed to be like this. The fact that you're growing up wasn't supposed to break my heart. I told myself, I will be able to get through my daughter's fourth birthday without feeling it, creeping at the corners of me, while I'm trying to sleep.
Daddy and I... we were so lonely before you knew you. We were kids, and time was passing, and there was nothing for us. We had no place. We clung to one another in the sticky summer nighttime. We were beautiful, but the world was mean, and we dreamed sweetly through a poisoned fog about something like you. Impossible and true, we dreamed that the world could be as honest as you've made it.
I felt like a monster, like a woman made of moss and stone who peered at everything with water for eyes. I felt like the bottom of a stream... silt kicking up at the hint of rain, but always a view of the clear white sky. I was nothing, and I was everything, and life was a series of evasions, of staying clear of the law and of the law of man. I was everything, and I loved your daddy, but the world didn't love us. We were too far away, and we'd stopped reaching backward a long time ago. The only connections we had to existing were that we breathed and ate, sometimes. We drove around in cars and we showered, but we weren't people like we are now.
People looked the other way when we were coming. There was too much sadness in the way your daddy sat alone for hours, the newspaper in his hands, and the real people were coming from church. They wanted to have breakfast and he was a shadow that god didn't sanction. He had been up all night, and people were holy and clean and well-rested and they wouldn't look at him.
I was a wild mess of pent-up sorrow and indignation. I painted myself with candy and blood. I wandered far into empty fields and fell asleep in the snow. Fell asleep to die and wake. Death could come, too, and I wasn't afraid. Living was hard, as a piece of glass in the side of the savior. I was a thorn pressed to his temple and I hated myself.
We would close ourselves up tight, scratch and dig to the center of one another. We pulled each other apart and piled our bodies high, searching through the rubble to find pieces that could be put back together. We were a losing love story. The kind that always ends in quiet. It only makes sense that we found you there, in the half light of our love. It only makes sense that we took apart the darkness, and inside the heart of the black world, we found a tiny glowing speck of sand, the last thing left alive. The beginning of the world.
I softly come into your room while you're asleep to pull your blankets around you and brush your hair from your face. You're an angel, when you sleep. You're sweet and so lovely that it takes all my strength to not scoop you up where you're laying and wake you to tell you how I love you.
It was sunny on the morning after you were born. It had been cold and winter for so long, and on a morning in April, you brought a flood of spring warmth. My brother was up all night in the hospital with a room full of people who loved you before they knew you, waiting for you to arrive. He squinted against the light through the blinds of our hospital room and said, "Hi little one. You brought the sun with you." Everybody knew what you were, not just me. Everybody knew that you were everything good in the world. That the mean old world was turned bright and new, because you were alive. You were my girl, and daddy and I could finally breathe.
I know that Cheesy is still a baby, but she's growing, too. Daddy just called me from Grandma's house to tell me that, at nine months, she's finally crawling up a storm. She took her time with rolling over and crawling for me, because she knows that I can't take losing you to yourselves. I can't take not having a warm little body in my arms, but I want it, too. I want you both to grow so big that you block out the sun. I just don't know if I can be without you, like that.
I asked you yesterday if you would be my girl forever, and you wrapped your soft little arms around my neck and said, "I would never leave you, mama. You're my girl."
So, now you're big, I guess. Four years old is an awfully big accomplishment, and you've gotten here with the most grace and carefulness I've ever seen in anybody. You're so kind to people and considerate of their feelings. You take great pains to make everybody feel important and valued, and I feel like nothing next to you. I also feel like everything, like the whole world should wave and cheer for me, because I helped to make you into you. You wouldn't be who you are without me, and I'm so proud of us for the ways we've used our four years together.
You're only four, and I've learned so much about being a person, from you. Just today, I was preoccupied and cut a woman off in the parking lot of the post office. She was livid and she came up to my car window to yell at me, but I was on my phone, listening to a message from you. Your little voice was calling sweetly in my ear, "Hi, mommy! I just wanted to tell you that I love you and that I can't wait to see you when we get home." Grammy and Pappy were taking you on a surprise shopping trip to buy a new bike, because you are a good girl, and you deserve to have presents lavished on you.
This woman tapped on my window and I felt a familiar urge to bristle at her. To blame her for driving too slowly, for not using her lights in the rain. Instead, with your love ringing in my ears, I said, "It was my mistake, and it was dangerous. I apologize." She shrunk five times in size and muttered an okay. I felt good that I was able to do you proud and that I didn't try to make that lady feel like she wasn't being acknowledged. I just let her have her feelings about me, and I didn't feel a need to tell her, no. That she wasn't allowed to have those feelings because I decided so.
It's like what I told you this morning, when you were mad at me because I wouldn't let you wear your new chef's costume to soccer practice. "It's okay if you want to be mad and cry. I won't try to take that away from you. It's also not going to change the way I feel about letting you wear the costume, or the way I love you so much I could just eat you up."
Don't get bigger, please? For me? And also, do. Get so big that you can do anything. I won't take that away from you, even though I secretly think that we should freeze time here so that you can be my baby, forever.