“Mama, hand.”

She calls out in the darkness, her whisper-soft fingers drifting through the night until they find mine, their sleepy warmth intertwining with my own. Like clockwork, her sleepy songs ensue, the tiny pads of her pointer finger and thumb making tiny circles on my palm until she nods back off into toddler dreamland.

With her strawberry blonde curls nestled under my chin, I watch the rise and fall of her tiny body breathe in and out . . . in and out . . . and before drifting back into my own much-needed slumber, I focus back on the hand of my firstborn.

In the beginning, that miniature little hand always managed to curl its way up and out of even the most professional labor and delivery nurse’s swaddles, her splayed fingers resting against the curve of her cheek as she napped. In those first days as new parents, my husband and I delighted in this first little expression of our baby’s individuality. “Baby Gaga!” we laughed deliriously, amused by her resemblance to the pop star’s dance moves. Her movements uncoordinated, her 10 perfect fingers long and slender, her knuckles wrinkly, her nails impossibly tiny and papery-thin. That hand? It was a miracle. And when those slender fingers wrapped themselves around my own, no clinical explanation of that “reflex behavior” could deter my mama heart from practically exploding.

As the rest of her body began to grow at some sort of crazy warp speed, that hand traded wrinkles for rolls and dimples, and her palms and fingertips became round and fleshy. Her wrists? More like permanent bracelets. Her knuckles? Little indentations as sweet as the one in her jowly left cheek. Try though we might to offer pacifiers, stuffed animals and blankets as comfort objects, she quickly took to expressing a strong preference for MAMA. “I want Mama, Mama, and only Mama,” my husband took to saying whenever she went totally ballistic in the loving arms of our friends and family. Sometimes I thought I might really, seriously lose my mind, especially when even short car rides proved too much separation for her liking—the back seat of the car started feeling like my second home, and if I forgot the baby carrier for any outing, I paid dearly for it.

But when those soft fingers wrapped themselves around my own, no amount of clingy baby could deter my mama heart from loving that sweet girl more with each passing day.

“Mama, hand,” she started frequently demanding from the moment she could articulate the two-word phrase, obviously delighted with her ability to verbally express her desires. Sometimes this request made logical sense—she wanted assistance in navigating the many stairs in our house, or perhaps she wanted to “jump high!” and figured she could use some extra leverage. Other times, I could only roll my eyes as I hauled my gigantic pregnant body down to the floor of her bedroom so I could snake one of my hands through her crib rails or—much worse—attempt to drive to prenatal appointments with my left hand alone at the wheel, my entire right arm going tingly and numb from reaching backwards to make contact with the fingertips flailing out from the car seat behind me. In my hormonal delirium, I even attempted to rationalize with said toddler (ha!) that holding Mama’s hand while swinging on the swing wasn’t just silly, it was downright dangerous . . . and would inevitably result in a “big bonk!” But when my wild child’s fingers wrapped themselves around my own, no amount of morning sickness or exhaustion could deter my mama heart from reveling in that quiet moment, willing myself to soak up those last minutes together in the calm before the storm.

This week, our hand holding has varied. Some days, her small open palm gently rested on top of mine, grazing the surface of my skin in large, slow circles as she lulled herself to sleep in her toddler bed. Other days, she insisted on firmly grasping “both mama hands” for stability while she used the “big, big potty!” When she was sick yesterday, her hot, feverish fingers moved slowly but deliberately, grasping at any part of my hand she could get as she endured some pretty awful stomach pains. When she finally started feeling better, she happily interlocked her fingers with mine as we played together on the swing set in the backyard.

Today, I hold my big girl’s wiggly body up against her baby sister’s—a tiny body nestled close to me, sweetly sleeping away in the carrier, with her 10 perfect fingers long and slender, her knuckles wrinkly, her nails impossibly tiny and papery-thin—to wipe syrupy popsicle from my 2-year-old’s busy fingers. As I clean her hands, I can’t help but feel a pang of sadness; her disappearing knuckle dimples, her emerging wrist bones, and her thickening fingernails have become obvious, undeniable traces of her rapidly disappearing babyhood—evidence of the inevitable fact that she won’t want to hold a mama hand forever.

As I blink back tears, I feel my newborn’s warm, wrinkled, velvety palm release its grasp on my shirt collar, traveling slowly down my ribcage and out the side of the carrier to the cool skin of my freckled arm. And as those still-sticky toddler fingers escape my paper toweled grasp and wrap themselves around her baby sister’s, no amount of my own sentimentality can deter my mama heart from practically exploding once more—this time with simultaneous pride in the kind little person my oldest is becoming, with love for both of my little girls, and with hope for an unbreakable sibling bond to develop between them in the years to come.

As I hear her little voice whisper, “Emma, hand,” I can’t help but smile.

Carolyn Saccomanno

Carolyn is a tired and happy mom to two sweet girls: a two year old and a baby. She is also a wife, copy editor at a local magazine, part-time high school English teacher, part-time blogger, part-time hand lettering artist, and full-time human milk machine. She loves writing, reading, crafting, baking, wasting hours on Pinterest, spending summers at the lake, going on long walks, and generally being the biggest homebody ever. She runs a locally-focused mom blog in her hometown of Spokane, WA called Momvillage.