"Mummy" says my three year old from her bed as I lie next to her, "I want you to stay here forever." And she sighs and snuggles down in the bed, surrounded by her current favourite soft toys.
I cuddle her. "No mummy" she says. "But don't leave me."
Any my heart strings tug just a little bit more. I am needed but she wants her independence. It's bedtime after her first day at preschool, and just like that, another milestone on the winding road of her growing up has passed. Another first, and another lump in the throat.
I'm so proud of how far she has come, what she has done, and yet there's a yearning for her as a baby still, memories of first steps and first words which seem to be sometimes, quite far away. Sometimes, though, unexpectedly, Facebook throws them at me as memories when I'm not ready, and again I look into baby eyes, see wrists ringed with bracelets of fat, chubby legs, unsteady steps and a gurgle of laughter or the clutch of a plastic spoon.
New discoveries are being made. I find myself sometimes, a wondrous but unwilling participant in this growing up. I can't stop it, I want her to grow, but I want to freeze time in frames as it marches on with her leading me with determined steps. I love watching her new achievements but each one has just the tiniest tinge of sadness.
We're moving up, up and away, to new pastures from paths I only just find before the landscape changes again. It is she who takes me to the next level. We have no map, but she's so eager to see all there is.
I find myself searching for that baby still. The smell of her freshly washed hair is one reminder, the curve of her neck another, her eyelashes in deep sleep a third. I watch over her with wonder and cuddle her, wanting my love to seep into her, circle her with my arms to keep her safe, and with me, but she needs to grow and change. So, In my mind, I let her go a little bit more, so she can grow.
But one thing hasn't changed. Deep in sleep, in my arms, warm and filled with dreams, her sweet head still smells of toast. I breathe it in deep. If I could bottle it, I would label it "happiness."