I nestle up against the arm of the couch, a book in my lap, a cup of hot tea beside me on the end table. Rain drums against the skylight and the wind howls, but a fire lights the wood stove and I am cozy under my blanket. For this brief period, I rest. An hour, ninety minutes if I’m lucky. A slice of silence. Nothing but the sound of pages rustling, of raindrops falling, of pine needles whispering against the house.
And then, abruptly, the quiet ends. The crib creaks against the wall of the nursery as a small girl pulls herself to her feet. A soft thud as BaaBaa – her stuffed lamb – hits the floor, followed by the louder thunk of her pacifier. Then, her calls, tears staining her voice: “Mama? Mama? Mama!”
I stretch, then swallow the dregs of my tea and shrug my way out from underneath the blanket. A finger in my book to hold my place (in the vain hope that she might lie go back to sleep), I ease her door open.
She sags against the edge of her crib, her arm draped over the railing, her head cocked to one side. When she sees me, her eyes close in relief, and then she is standing straight, reaching for me. Smiling, I wipe the moisture from her cheeks, then gather her in my arms, whispering soothingly into her ear. I retrieve the lamb and the pacifier from the floor. We settle into the gliding rocker in the corner, a blanket tucked around us.
She relaxes as I rock. Her arm snakes out from beneath the blanket, her soft fingers brushing my lips with her request, one I know well.
“Would you like me to sing to you?”
A sucking sound and a pop as she pulls out her pacifier.
And so I do. “Amazing Grace” and “Be Thou My Vision” and “This is My Father’s World,” favorite hymns whose lyrics comfort me as much as the sound of my voice comforts her. As I sing, she shifts position until she’s lying across my lap, her head cradled in the crook of my arm, her eyes watching my face. I hold her gaze. She drifts toward sleep again, her eyelids drooping, but then jerks herself awake, shaking her head and scowling at me as though I am trying to play some trick on her. I suppose I am, at that.
She is too old for such tricks, however, and so, finally, after much singing and rocking, her eyes fly open and she sits straight up. Her hands twist back and forth near her head, using the sign we taught her, and she grins at me. I grin back.
“All done singing?”
She nods, then laughs, bouncing in my lap with newfound energy. I ask her if she wants to get down, and she shakes her head. In a move I never taught her, she tips her head coyly to the side, peering up at me from underneath her eyelashes. I know an invitation when I see one. I lean forward and blow kisses into her neck, tickling beneath her arms as I do, and she dissolves into a fit of giggles, squirming away from me and toward me at the same time, her face awash in delight.
We play. She lifts the edge of my shirt to give her version of belly flubbers – a soft, quick pffft three inches from my skin – and I return the favor with the real thing, her soft tummy the perfect place for such antics. She holds BaaBaa to my face and makes smacking sounds and, with no hint of irony, I thank the stuffed animal for his kisses. She hides his face, and hers, behind the blanket and rewards my feigned surprise with joyfully uninhibited toddler laughter.
A good half hour passes between the time I first enter her room and the time she is ready to leave, but eventually, she has had enough. She points toward the door. Her voice lifts in a question.
“Are you ready for a snack?”
With some negotiating (for this girl still loves her pacifier, and protests the rule that only allows its use during naps and at night), I convince her to hand me her sucker. She clambers down from my lap and toddles to the door, reaching up to grab the handle. I turn off the white noise and tuck the pacifier away. We leave this small sanctuary and enter the wide world together.
My life is a good one, and there are many sweet moments throughout my day: early morning snuggles, a kiss from my love when he comes home from work, deep belly laughs as my girl and her dad play together before bed, whispered pillow talk as we drift toward sleep. But these fleeting seconds after her nap, these brief thirty minutes when she sits on my lap, these magical moments when I am all hers and she is all mine, are my favorite part of the day.