It all happened tonight.
Five minutes earlier we had been laughing. But now I pulled her blankets up, kissed her round, peach cheeks, and saw a flash of sadness and fear in her eyes.
“What is it, baby girl? What’s wrong?”
Her eyes filled, face twisting into that sadness, the kind we hold back, even as children, holding fear at bay but then something breaks the dam and it all floods forward.
She held her breath for a moment, the words spilled out: “I don’t want my teeth to fall out!”
Tears streamed down her cheeks, her tiny body shaking with sobs, eyes shut in sadness.
“Oh sweetie! Your teeth won’t fall out! Why do you think they’ll fall out?” Whatever birthed this belief, clearly it was tormenting her.
She held her breath again, unable to say the words. I know that feeling, baby girl. Finally she spit out the truth. “Because I suck my thumb. Because I suck my thumb, my teeth are moving back and I’ll have to get braces and my teeth will fall out.”
“Oh sweetie. Your teeth won’t fall out. And even if you have to get braces, that’s ok. Are you feeling like you’re ready to stop sucking your thumb?” She nodded, fear and hope mixed in her tears.
“Ok. That’s a great plan. I’ll snuggle you and we’ll play music and I’ll hold onto your hands.”
As with most meltdowns, the issue is never the issue. We snuggled, but the tears kept coming. Her body shook with sobs. She couldn’t slow her breath. Fifteen minutes turned to twenty, and thirty turned to forty-five. I propped up on my elbow and saw sadness deeper than teeth issues. She finally choked out words between sobs:
“I want to … remember … this night forever. And that other night … when you snuggled me for a long time … I want to remember both nights forever, how you snuggled me.”
“Ok, yes. Let’s remember this forever.”
“And …” her voice caught in tears, “when I’m all grown up will you write down a list of all the things I did when I was little? So I can always remember?” I looked into her eyes, bewildered and suddenly caught by the significance of this question.
“Yes! Of course, sweetie. I’ll write everything down, so we can remember together. When …” and now my voice caught, “when you’re all grown up.”
I leaned my face down, my wet cheek against hers. I can already see her at 14, tall with brown curls, muscular legs and still-round cheeks. She’s laughing with her head thrown back in a wide-eyed wonderment. Will I still be here? Will she still be here? What will be different? What will I wish I had done? Will I have any regrets? Will I remember all the things she did “when she was little” so I can write them in a list?
I couldn’t breathe.
I don’t know how long we lay there, her tiny body wrapped up in mine. But the summer evening sun turned to darkness and the air cooled, coming through the window. At some point she asked for daddy. Jeff joined us. Eventually she stilled. Asleep.
Kari Patterson is wife to one church-planting pastor-husband, mommy to two squirrely home-school kids, scrap-thrower to three quirky chickens, and author of five ebooks, including Plenty: 31 sips of joy for moms everywhere. She speaks locally and internationally to thousands and writes at karipatterson.com, encouraging women to celebrate the sacred in the midst of the mundane.