I lay on my left side, my arm awkwardly squished beneath my body, my right arm draped across her chest. She is on her back, blinking up at the star pattern on her ceiling, made by the glow of her nightlight. I hear her quietly count the stars in Chinese. “Yi, er, san, si …” Her eyelashes rise and fall in her silhouette, and I know she is tired. Earlier this afternoon my attempts to get her to take a nap were unsuccessful. she cried and cried and I sat on the side of her bed and said to her, “It’s hard to sleep without the binky, isn’t it?” She nodded her head, little tufts of blonde hair sticking to her wet cheeks.
Yesterday morning as we packed our suitcases and gathered our belongings to leave Cambodia we walked with her, binky in hand, to the garbage can. It had been my idea to just “lose” the binky in Cambodia, and come home without it. But Richard didn’t think that was fair, he thought she had a right to be witness to whatever happened to it. We never would have let any of the older kids keep a binky well past three years old. So all week we talked it up. We watched and rewatched a clip from Sesame Street on YouTube, when Elmo gives up his pacifier. “Bye bye binky, binky bye bye! No more binky, Elmo won’t cry” we sang all week, substituting Elmo’s name with Mira’s.
The three of us; Richard, Amirah and myself, stood in front of the trash can. With the binky in one hand, and the fingers of her other hand wrapped around Richard’s index finger, she looked up at me, her expression mostly blank, but with pleading blue eyes. “You do it” she said as she shoved the binky in my hand. Then, something inside me, the part of my mothering identity associated with infants and babies, extinguished. Fourteen years of diapers and cribs, and now this last relic of a phase of life that has been the bulk of my adulthood snuffed out. It hurt. I gave Richard a helpless glance over the top of her head as I dropped the binky in the bin. I could already see regret in her face.
On the plane she cried, asking for it. And then asking for a new one when I reminded her what we had done. But that night she fell asleep in the car on the way home from the airport and Richard had effortlessly slipped her into bed, and my dread was replaced with relief.
Tonight I had not been so lucky. I read her a story and sang her a song just like I always do. I tucked her in and kissed her goodnight and softly closed the door. It was uneventful, I thought it was going to be fine. But less than ten minutes passed before she tearfully crept down the stairs and called for me. I carried her back to bed, asking what was the matter, but she just wrapped her arms around my neck and buried her face in my shoulder. She drew her purple blankie up to her chin again and I sang a few more songs, but as I got up to leave she said “Lay on my bed.”
She flops over onto her side, her back to me, facing the window. She likes to have the Roman shades up so she can see the brightly lit windows of the apartment buildings along the dark horizon. I look over her shoulder out the window myself, enjoying the view, and then she’s restlessly rolling again, shuffling her body right up against mine. She’s still small enough to fit in that space between my chin and the bend of my waist. None of my babies loved me as hard as she loves me. She strokes my arm with her fingers, before flipping onto her back again. Almost instantly her breath changes and her eyes close and I know she is asleep. I can get up now, I can go eat that last brownie and change the laundry. But I don’t move a muscle.