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I held you before I even knew you existed, little one.

I held you within my body. I held you when the only evidence of you being there was a combination of waves of debilitating nausea, aches in my back, and two colored lines that proclaimed your presence. I held you through pregnancy, which sometimes made me feel like I was dancing across the clouds, and sometimes made my body feel so heavy and anxious and weary and that it simply could not hold anything, not even the weight of my own soul, any longer.

I held you in my arms. I held you while you nursed, while you slept. I held you while I bounced, while I rocked, while I swayed. I held you while I cried and wondered, how does anyone do this? How will I get through it? I held you when I was so, very tired of all the holding. I held you while I cried and mouthed a silent prayer of thanks to have been gifted with you. I held you so you could eat, so you could rest, so you could feel assured that you were safe, you were loved, and you were home. When your fragile little body settled into my arms I felt you melt. I watched your fists unclench and I leaned into your downy head as you burrowed with familiarity into the curve of my neck.

I held you, loosely perched on my hip, or slung onto my back, while I went about my day. By then, we were like two pieces of a puzzle, made to fit together without any thought or effort. Without even noticing it sometimes, I would find myself swinging you up there—your place, your seat on my hip, your viewing deck onto my world. I held you while I stirred the simmering ragout on the stove, while I pushed a trolley of groceries, while I hopped onto a bus, while I carried your sister in my burgeoning belly and despite strangers’ looks of surprise that I was still complying to your request of, “Mama, carry you.”

I hold you now, after you give me that look that says you think you might be getting too old to ask for it, but when I can, I will keep saying yes. I will keep on holding you, no matter how big you think you’re getting, no matter how bashful a glance you throw at me as your arms stretch upwards, and no matter how far up those arms can now reach.

The bittersweet twist of this story, my darling, this story of you and me and how very much you need or want me to hold you when you’re young, is that I hold you, sweet baby—I hold you, close to my heart, I breathe you in and grasp onto you as closely as I can—so that one day, you’ll know it’s OK to let go.

I hold you so you know I am your home. I hold you so you can venture with courage, so you can dive in headfirst into your life, so you can someday walk so far down the path that you end up somewhere you, or even I, have never been.

I hold you so even if you turn around and can no longer see that well-worn path leading back home, you will know with unshakeable faith that your home still stands. Your home is still there.

I hold you so you know when the world is too much, when you feel afraid or ecstatic, when you feel overwhelmed or overjoyed, when you feel a sadness so deep in your soul or a bliss that invigorates all of your senses and sets you alight, you can come right back into my arms.

And baby, I will hold you. Even if you no longer fit on my lap, even if you’re a little bit embarrassed, even if you have a job, or a mortgage, or a little one of your own who needs you to hold her.

I hold you so you know I am here, every step of the way, whether that step is the first one those spongy feet have ever taken or a step you take with such confidence and self-assurance that you don’t even think twice about me or whether you might need my help.

And until then, baby, I will hold you, and I will keep holding you, for as long as you need.

You may also like: Don’t Let Me Forget Their Littleness

So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

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