She is six and I have her seated on the floor between my legs as I try to tame her unruly curls into a braid suitable for school. She winces as I tug and I give her a book to read. To take her mind off the pain.
She is ten. Boys are mean and pull her hair. I am her best friend and her other best friend lives in Rio. They write long letters with pink gel pens and decorate them with a million stickers.
She is sitting on my bed trying on jewelry. At fourteen, boys are interesting and the books and movies have taught her everything she needs to know about life. I am still her best friend but I sense that it is changing.
She slams the door shut on her way out. She says she hates me and will never talk to me again. I sigh gently, she used to be my best friend. She has a boyfriend. He wears black all the time and holds her hand. I pray at night that it is all he holds. She is sixteen.
She is crying into my arms. I tell her heartbreak won’t kill her. That it will make her stronger. Teach her more about life. About herself. That it is good to cry. She Says she will never love again. I smile as I remember where my heart was at eighteen.
She has a fierce love for God. I am jealous of it sometimes and other times I am just so happy it hurts my cheeks. She reads all the time and she sends me funny voice notes at odd times of the day. She has a friend she wants me to meet. She tells me I will like him. I remind her that she promised me she will never love again. She laughs. She remembers. She is twenty-three.
She is the most beautiful woman in the world today. I am so proud. In the church, I whisper a prayer of thanks to God for the gift of my baby. She smiles at me as he walks her down the aisle. There are tears in her eyes. “I love you” is what I whisper to her when I hug her outside. She hugs me back tightly. I will miss her so much. Twenty-five is too young.
She calls me at 3 am. I am going to be a grandmother. I feel so old. She is excited. She can’t stop giggling. I put the phone on the table and go back to bed. Through the veil of sleep I can hear them at the other end of the phone. Making plans.
I pray for her every night. I pray that she is strong. I ask God to keep her safe. To help her be more than I could ever be. I talk to her all the time. She is no longer my baby.
I pray for her all the time.
She will always be my baby.
She gives me a card on her fiftieth birthday. In it there is an old photograph: I am sitting on a chair on the front porch. She is on the floor between my legs. There is a book lying open in front of her. She is half-turned looking up at me. I have a comb in my right hand. I am looking down at her.
We are laughing.