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My Dear Firstborn, You'll Never Know

Photograph by Twenty20

"Ugh, Mom, you never pay any attention to me!" my oldest child said in a huff the other day. Her delicate features crumpled on her face as she crossed her arms and frowned at me.

I tried to not laugh out loud as I pulled her in close to me, remembering the months we spent together, alone—just her and me. The days I literally spent just holding her, the hours I spent reading with her, the naps we shared, the classes we took together to teach her to swim, the way she was my entire world and how she changed my entire world.

I can tell her these things, of course, but she won't remember them. The truth is, my daughter, you'll never know how I studied you, each and every freckle on your nose an imprint on my heart, your features so new and yet familiar at the same time.

You'll never know the way I watched you sleep, echoes of "you should sleep when the baby sleeps!" filling my head, but I couldn't look away, so in awe of the simple fact that you were here, that you once resided curled up inside of me.

You'll never know the laps I took, the weariness settling into my bones as I hushed and bounced and prayed, willing you to find peace against the pain I didn't know was in your belly. You'll never know the decisions that seemed so big at the time: Breastfeeding or not? Lifelong ban on french fries or give in early? Organic strawberries or save the money?

You'll never know how my breath catches still when I catch a glimpse of you, how startling it is when you seem to grow up overnight, when you move with the grace of a woman but sleep like the baby I once held.

You'll never know the way a heart can beat outside the body, steadfast and strong, unwavering in its dedication to you.

You'll never know how my biggest fear in life is losing you, is of you slipping away from me, slowly as you grow.

You'll never know how unfit I feel for this job sometimes, how much I want to hide under my covers, how many times I offer up a silent "Are you sure you meant me for this gig?" to the universe.

You'll never know how I see myself in you, something that frightens me, even as it thrills me.

You'll never know how I love watching you grow up, how I see everything you do for your siblings, how you bear the burden of being the oldest—and a girl at that—so very gracefully.

You'll never know that I still watch you when you sleep, that I will never stop brushing the stray hair our of your eyes so I can see your beautiful face.

You'll never know what rage a mother can feel when someone crosses her little girl, the way my stomach hurts for you when you get nervous, the way I feel what you feel.

You'll never know how my biggest fear in life is losing you, is of you slipping away from me, slowly as you grow.

You'll never know how every step, every breath, every time I see you think of another, every story you tell, every movement you make, makes me marvel at the gift you are.

You'll never know, dear daughter of mine, how you became my entire world, changed my entire world, and will always be my world.

But I am here. Even when you think I'm not. And that's a promise.

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