I shuffle past an Orion worthy constellation of stuffed animals, legos, and dolls strewn across her bedroom floor, careful not to make a sound, even though my end goal is to wake her.
It should be criminal to have to wake a sleeping child this early for school. Ten to six in the morning is dream time. If I’m lucky, she rouses herself early, snuggles into a blanket nest perched on the recliner, and saves me the torture of waking her.
I sigh, putting off the inevitable, and stand at the head of her bed. Resting my elbow on her Barbie pink spray painted iron bed post, its chilly metal reassuring, I lean over and take her all in. Brunette braid roping across a silky leopard pillow case. A peekaboo of still baby fat fingers clutching a plushie pink kitty escaping from her covers. Her body curved like a smile. The gentle rise and fall of her chest humming a peaceful cadence.
Pure innocent perfection nestled in morning slumber. A still silhouette who deserves to sleep until her own internal alarm clock summons her from the land of Nod.
Damn schedules and time clocks and convention.
“Wake up, my baby. It’s time for kindergarten.” I rub circles on her back. She stirs.
Even though I despise waking her, I relish in her somnolent eyelids widening to wakefulness, her tranquil features shifting to loving recognition as her eyes settle on me.
Stretching like a kitten, she struggles to wake and remains half asleep. She lifts her arms to be picked up, resorting to babyish sign language because she’s too drowsy for words. Although she is far too heavy to carry like an infant, I indulge her on the mornings I have to wake her because when she’s sleepy she’s more baby than little girl.
I scoop her up, and I’m rewarded with her latching her arms around my neck like a monkey and her messy-headed essence releasing hot breath clouds into the crook of my neck. Kissing her warm forehead, I cross the threshold of her room and enter the living room. Not flicking on the lights because I know she’ll whimper from their brightness.
Before depositing her on the brown leather couch to continue my morning routine, she unclasps her hands from around my neck, and she gently pats my back three times.
My heart struggles to stay in my chest.
The pat pat pat unravels me. Even before she could say I love you, the pat pat pat was her way of saying she did. Three pats, one for each of the three words her mouth couldn’t form.
Thankful for this increasingly rare, brief glimpse of days past, I place her lovingly onto the couch and whisper, “I love you, too, my baby.”