Avery stops nursing and breaks her latch to smile up at me, her eyes shining. She waves her foot in the air, inviting me to play our game, and I oblige by pretending I'm not going to kiss her foot, then capturing it and showering it with kisses all over. "I'm going to kiss ALL of your toes!" I tell her. "Muah, muah, muah, muah, muah!" And she giggles into my breast. Satisfied, she turns her body towards me so we are tummy to tummy and continues nursing. A memory of her newborn days bubbles up and I reminisce about nursing her in bed in the early morning, her arms pinned to her sides in her swaddle and her tummy pressed against mine, surrounded by a nest of sheets and pillows. I remember thinking, I want to remember this always. The way this feels. But already I kind of forget. Laying there, her whole body used to fit above the bend of my legs. Could she really have been so tiny? It seems impossible now, holding this big baby, her legs stretched out over the arm of the chair. She is the same to me from day to day, and yet, she has changed so much.
Someday she will be grown, I think to myself, and suddenly a wave of sadness passes over me. I miss her already. I stroke her hair and her dimpled arms and her butterball legs. She reaches up a chubby hand and pats my face, then stops nursing to say, "Mmm-mah!" She resumes nursing matter-of-factly.
I am wearing the carpet thin, walking circles in the dark carrying Avery, waiting for her to be asleep enough to lay down. I'm humming, but my mind is churning. I think of Adam downstairs watching tv and feel jealous and resentful. My back aches. My right arm is numb. Why am I doing this? How much longer till I can go have my tea? How much longer till she outgrows this? Avery stirs in her almost-sleep and turns her face towards me on my shoulder. In the light from the hallway I can see the pale moon of her baby cheek, the fringe of her eyelashes, and the soft pout of her lips, her bottom lip is sucked in slightly making the shape of an upside down heart. Suddenly I am overwhelmed by the urge to kiss her sweet face, to nuzzle her neck and smell her head.
I stop myself - she is almost asleep and I don't want to wake her. Adam. Tea.
I try to memorize the weight of her in my arms and the mold of her body against my torso.
I think I can lay her down now. As I shift her weight, she stirs again and wraps her little arms around my neck. I hesitate. She doesn't want me to leave her. I could stay, I could sit with her in the rocking chair and hold her while she is sleeping, listen to her breathing. Instead I lay her down and she stays asleep. My wistfulness is replaced by a triumphant feeling. Success! I am free for the moment to join Adam downstairs.
Later, he and I climb in our bed together and turn out the lights. I lay awake in the dark thinking of her. Is she ok? Is she safe? Is she warm enough? I think I cannot sleep, but when I hear her sharp cry on the monitor, I am jolted from a dream. Secretly I am happy that I can go gather her up and snuggle her down next to me in bed. I think, someday she will sleep on her own all night. And I miss her again, though she is right there. I am curled around her protectively. She nurses and starts to fall asleep so I unlatch her. She rolls over and puts her diapered bottom against my tummy. My heart is full.