Near the end of the day, after I've stacked all the crusty dishes in the dishwasher, washed the highchair tray for the eighth time that day, picked up smeared beets and clumped shredded cheese and sticky rice off of the high chair and floor, scrubbed the bottles and tiny spoons with the brush, and left all the leftovers on the table for Jeff to handle, I pick up my little girl. Even though I had just given her a bath less than an hour earlier, little gobs of rice and cheese are tangled in her wisps of hair. She smells of sweet potato and milk and cheese. I cart her over to the sink and rinse off what I can, even though she protests by pulling her hand back before all the soap has been washed out. I stretch her little limbs to meet the faucet once again and shrink back when she threatens to grab its mouth and splash us both. As I carry her down the hall to change her yet again, she giggles and coos and talks to me in her secret language.
We make our way upstairs, with her still cradled in my arms and a milk bottle in my hand. I bounce up the stairs with a little extra jolt to squeeze in her last fun for the day, as I exclaim, "Bouncy, bouncy, bounce!" She giggles with each jolt, squeezing her eyes and scrunching her nose. Upstairs, I click on one reading lamp, just enough to help me make my way across the room, where I bundle her in two layers of wearable blankets, and with the push of a button, I make raindrops magically fall without rain. As I zip her up, her hands rise to her eyes and she rubs and rubs as if suddenly lured by the spell of sleep.
I pick her up once more and we move back across the room to sit on the glider. There, I nestle her in my lap with her back stretched across my left arm. With my other hand, I pick up the bottle and hold it up for her. Her mouth reaches for it eagerly, even though we had just eaten minutes earlier, and she fills up for the night. Her head rests on the hollow of my neck, and she slumps with a sudden heaviness, as if giving in, no longer fighting. I rock ever so gently, gently enough to help her find her rhythm of sleep.
There, while she drinks, I hold her. I pull her in a little closer and press my cheek against her forehead. I feel her warmth, her softness, the tickle of her hair. I breathe in the familiar, comforting scent of her skin. I listen to her breathe. I kiss her all over her face and pull up her tiny hand to plant some more kisses there.
When she is done, she pushes the bottle away. She rubs her eyes some more, and I keep rocking her. She rolls herself over and pulls up her head to look at me. She puts her delicate finger on my nose to say "nose." Then she folds herself into a little ball on my lap and shifts around to find a comfortable spot. I pick her up once more and ferry her across the room. I swing her slowly as I walk, whispering, "It's sleepy time." I lean over to kiss her a few more times, to smell her, to breathe in her breath, before I lean over to lay her in her crib. I run my hand down her hair and her cheeks as I say good night. With her eyes barely open, she kicks a couple of times in the air, then rolls over onto her stomach, turns her head to face the wall, and positions herself for sleep.
I linger a bit. Standing over her crib, I watch her shift and settle down. I see her back rise and fall. I fidget a bit with the curtain and then the stuffed animals sitting by the side. Then I watch some more. Then, reluctantly, I tip toe away and leave her in the care of the night.