“I little,” she confirms. “Pick me up.”
I steel my center as I reach down and lift her up. Her legs wrap around my waist, her cheek finds its favorite place in the hollow between my shoulder and my collarbone. She rests there, cradled in arms that have gone rigid with the effort of holding her. At two and a half she is long-legged and tall for her age. She weighs 33 pounds. She is hardly little. And at the same time, she is nothing but.
I don’t remember my older two ever wishing to be little. My oldest couldn’t wait to do “big girl” things like wear underwear and ditch the sippy cup for a proper drinking glass. My middle one simply wanted to be like her older sister and took on challenges, like skiing and summer camp, at an earlier age than the first one did, just to keep up.
But Lilah, our third and last, she wants to be little. She wants me to pick her up as often as possible; she brings her elephant lovey everywhere, even to the bathtub where he waits by the sink until it’s time to dry off. She asks me to wrap her in her favorite blanket so she can snuggle down in a sunny spot on the floor. When I ask her if she’s pretending to be a baby, she says, “No. I just little mama.”
I can’t help but wonder what she’s getting at, this little one. Is she so wise that she’s already figured out that being “big” ain’t all that? Is she so self-aware that she actually understands how to appreciate the present moment instead of pining for the future?
“You be little mama,” she commands and so I try to get small. I crouch down next to her, pull my knees up into my chest, wrap my arms around my shins and tuck my chin. She laughs at me.
“You not little mama!”
“No, you’re right, I’m not,” I say. “But I was once as little as you are now.”
She gives me her opened-mouthed, wide-eyed surprised face. I haven’t got the heart to tell her that she, too, will one day be big, that she will probably grow to be taller than me, that her heart will expand with love and her agile mind with possibility, that her round baby face will give way to distinct planes and angles, that she’ll soon outgrow her new, red shoes.
In our culture, there’s pressure for children to grow up and get on with it: eat solids, crawl, walk, talk, play, potty train, socialize. Sure, there’s an age range for when these milestones should be reached, but there also seems to be a badge of honor that comes when your child does these things on the early side. Why can’t we just let our little people be little?
Last night my almost 12-year-old asked me to sing her a bedtime song. She hadn’t asked me to do that in well over a year. What was once a nightly ritual had dwindled down to the occasional mother-daughter, over-the-top duet of songs like “Let it Go” and “Just Another Picture to Burn.” She asked me to sing “Blackbird” and I did, stroking her long, caramel-colored hair. When the song ended, she clasped my hand in hers and squeezed it to her chest.
“I feel little mommy,” she said. “Like I did when I was five and free and didn’t have to do anything but play and eat and go to sleep.”
We all yearn to be little now and then and for the sweet simplicity we remember when we were small. I’m in no hurry for my littlest one to grow up. I can’t stop time, but I’ll honor her wish to be little for as long as I can.
Photo by Victoria Remler