I dreamt of days like these, before you were born. Days when gummy candy was served on fine china underneath a homemade fort with your favorite stuffed baby lamb as a guest.
Days when my childhood bear (made by my mom, your nini), was dressed in a dress you had outgrown and crowned while sitting in a perfectly royal, floral chair.
Days when a glance to your bookcase revealed so much love—a toy hand-painted by Grandpa, a glass jar filled with beach treasures made by Aunt Katy, a small snow globe to remind you of the city where Uncle Kyle once lived (and still visits, often), a book in French with your name as the title from Nini, and a starfish.
Days in which I noticed the chocolate kiss you must have given to your mama lamb after you had eaten a chocolate treat. The lamb, which Grandma gave to you when you were still so small your entire body fit upon my chest. The lamb, which you insist must always wear the wonderful, handmade bird Nini and Pop Pop bought for you in Italy.
Your blanket forts remind me of the one I used to make over and over at my old house, when I was just a little girl. We had concrete steps that led down to the lower level of our house. I would place an old towel over those steps, held in place by old bricks and rocks. And there I would hide my treasures—wild onion, dandelions, forsythia branches, pretty rocks, grass. Forts are good for hiding treasure. Of course, I think the forts I make today hold the best treasures I’ve ever owned.
This is my favorite picture of you and Zoey. Every time I look at it I first smile, remembering that afternoon, filled with bee’s wings, crowns, tall hats and wands. And then I remember that I’ve never taken the time to correctly put the photo in the frame, a task which simply requires a small screwdriver. Tasks like these never get done these days. Too much fort building, I suppose. The dried rose, by the way, was from a birthday bouquet.
The floral and crystal chandelier, fitting for our house—and you—was all thanks to a good deal I found on Zulily. It makes me smile every time I look at it.
Days when the rain falls hard and the wind rattles your bedroom windows are perfect for blanket forts held secure with a stack of well-loved picture books.
I hope I knew these days were coming on the nights when you wouldn’t sleep, when I couldn’t calm you. And I hope I remember these days fondly, when our relationship changes and a tea party with your mom is no longer your idea of fun.
I try to follow your stories, spoken aloud, when you play with your dollhouse. But often I become lost in their labyrinthine ways—your imagination is too much for my adult mind, I suppose.
Your grandma cross-stitched this quilt by hand for your dad, when he was a baby. I wonder if it will seem odd to have baby quilts and blankets draped around our house when you and your brothers are older—if so, I will surely miss them.
I loved my ballerina music box when I was a little girl—it was much like this one, with a small, plastic ballerina that twirled in front of a small, oval mirror. I wish I still had it. Even though I, perhaps, should discipline you when I hear it play long after you should be asleep, I don’t. Because I, too, remember slipping out of bed to turn the little key on my box. And some memories in the making don’t deserve to be scolded.
Although I’ve been tempted, many times, to paint your toenails (as I know you would love it, the way you always notice and compliment mine), I’m glad I haven’t yet. I’m glad these feet have only known soft rugs, grass, our cold hardwood floor, heater vents, sand, quilts, Nini and Pop Pop’s gravel driveway, warm knitted blankets, cool sheets. I like that the only glitter that has been slipped on them is from your red, glittered-cover shoes, the ones you insisted on wearing to preschool today. Your toes have many years of glitter ahead of them. For now, I think they’re beautiful, plain.
I bought this small, wooden doll for you in Spain. I was away from you for 10 days, which was both wonderful and awful. I know you don’t remember me giving you the doll but I love that she’s earned a place in your treasure chest—and sometimes, as shown here, in your bed.
This is my favorite picture of you and your cousin, Colleen, taken on our family vacation to the beach last summer. I have it tucked into the large, framed family tree that’s hanging above your dresser.
You love to take pictures of your small, plastic princess dolls with your Fisher-Price camera. I watch you, from your doorway, when you don’t notice me. I watch you, as you carefully arrange them on your small, floral chair, step back, take a picture, review the picture, scrunch your brow, rearrange the dolls, retake the picture, over and over and over. Are you going to be a photographer someday? You insisted I take a picture of you with one of your dolls, when I was pretending to be a photographer, this day.
May you find yourself this happy more days than not.
This is your Build-a-Bear, which you, obviously, picked out all on your own. It hurts my eyes to look at but you love it so in a weird sort of way, I have come to love it, too.
You keep your lavender (which you smell daily) from Nini on top of your treasure chest, which Grandma made for you. Although I don’t want you to know this yet, someday I hope you realize how lucky you are to experience such love from circles that extend into circles that extend into circles, all around you. Because so many children don’t get that. I hope you are someday grateful and, more importantly, provide that same sort of love for someone else someday, too.
This little rabbit has been in your bed since you received it, several holidays ago. Here it sits perched on the beautiful quilt Nini made for you. Sometimes, during hard nights when our family rearranges itself and everyone is in someone else’s bed, I wrap myself up in your quilt and sleep better, I swear.
May you find yourself pleasantly surprised, more days than not.
The giraffe is from Pop Pop (he loves giraffes, which you know). Piglet is from Aunt Lizzie. And the book is mine, from my parents, as it contains one of my favorite Little Bear stories—”Too Much Kissing.” My mom wrote in the inside cover that there’s no such thing as too much kissing. She’s right. (This is, in part, why I kiss you and your brothers so much.)
The Amish doll, whose apron and bonnet are misplaced, is from Nini. She sits perched in the bed I spent too long choosing for you, with a background of stripes painted for you by Paw Paw.
Even when those we love aren’t with us, or live far away, our lives are filled with their presence—and love. People say you shouldn’t put such emphasis on things, and I agree with that. But when so many things in your life are handmade or purchased by those you love, it’s hard not to. Everything in your room has a story, has thought behind it, has a purpose. Even the mundane, like the slip of cardboard still tucked into your not-yet-worn tights—its story is that my life is so busy I have not had time to remove it. Or the little ball of foil underneath your chair—its story is that you snuck some candy into your room and ate it when I wasn’t looking.
So maybe I don’t agree with not putting such emphasis on things, at least not entirely. Things tell stories, trigger memories, moments and, perhaps, most importantly, thoughts of people.
You are surrounded by love, Sophie, always. Maybe, years from now, when things are really tough (I hope they never will be but one cannot be human without having a things-are-really-tough life stage), you will read this. And, maybe, open an old box and turn a little key and watch a plastic ballerina twirl around. And you’ll remember that you are loved, then, now and always. And perhaps, that night, you will dream of a rainy afternoon spent indoors, under a homemade fort drinking pretend tea and eating gummy candy—just like I did, before you were born.
Speaking of love, all my love,
“Love is an act of endless forgiveness, a tender look which becomes a habit.” —Peter Ustinov