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Sometimes there will be a moment with my kids when I do a double-take because I’ve noticed just then that they’re big. I had the two of them less than two years apart, so for a long time my focus was simply trying to get through each day unscathed and with at least a scrap of sleep or sanity (rarely both). When they turned 5 and 7 it got easier (hooray for school!), but they still felt kid-like.

So when something catches my attention—be it hearing a turn of speech or seeing their legs stretched even longer overnight or witnessing them click past a longtime favorite show for something more mature or the arrival of a birthday that brings my baby into double-digits—I feel the urge to wrap my hands around those baby and toddler years again. To hold onto those moments, dive in and inhale them, like we did to our babies’ heads many moons ago.

Lots of people scratch that itch by flipping through their kids’ baby books, but I never made one for my daughter. I think I might have started one for my son, but by the time I could think straight enough to jot down a few things in his, I was pregnant with her. So that was that. Thankfully my head is full of snapshots from her life, so I flip through those, instead.

I see her little fingers curled around mine as I nursed her.

I see her wide eyes take in her brother for the first time, as if she knew he’d be there waiting for her to arrive.

I see her holding out a cluster of flower petals for me to sniff.

I see her head thrown back, eyes squeezed shut in her signature roaring laugh.

I see her wild hair tangled in my eyelashes as I pull her close to inhale her scent of maple and paint.

I see her bouncing by the door when she hears her dad pull into the driveway.

I see her carefully tucking her dolls in at night, whispering in their ears.

I see her tilting her head to the side as she decides what to add to her drawing.

I see her inviting the new kid to play with her and her friends on the playground.

I see her trying and trying again to get her cartwheels just right.

I see her dashing across the lawn on sunny days, her hand reaching out to the butterflies.

She has loved chasing butterflies since she was tiny. Each time she’d see one, her face would light up as if it were the first time. She’d look over to me with shining eyes to make sure I saw it, too, then snap her attention back to the beautiful creature taking flight. As it flittered between sunbeams on an adventure we’d never know all the details of, she’d slip her hand out of mine to join the dance. She knew it was too fragile, too precious to try and capture. She’d never cage it between her palms, forcing it to stay close, for she knew butterflies needed to decide their own path. So she just reached out to it, just in case it was willing to settle in her palm even for a moment, before flying off once more.

I’ve tried countless times to get an actual photograph of this so she could see the thing that I have loved watching her do all these years, but they either came out too blurry or I was too slow. This might not seem like a big deal to some, but today my daughter turned 10, and while I was wrangling with the logistics of having little kids, my youngest became not little anymore.

There is a chance this is causing my heart to feel many things it did not expect.

I know my time on the lawn watching her play is precious, for her friends are becoming a draw I cannot compete with. I know my window of hand-holding time is closing, for she is confident enough in herself now to not always need my reassurance. I am proud of the girl I raised, and look forward to who she will be in this second decade of life. But my heart cannot deny that now I’m the one chasing a butterfly, reaching out, knowing I can’t keep her from her path, but hoping with everything I have that she will come back to me, settle in my palm even for a moment, before flying off once more.

Photo: Getty