“Come here,” I said, pulling you from the bed and onto the floor where I sat. You cried as I stroked your long bangs and wisps of hair from your forehead.

“But I don’t want to be seven tomorrow,” you said. “I want to stay six. I’m not ready to be older.”

You know your mama well, so I probably don’t need to tell you that the tears ran down my face then, too, because I’m not ready either, and I want to seal this moment in chunks of amber beneath a stopped clock. Make an agreement that we will both stay just how old we are now, vow to sit this way again — you tracing the outline of my arms while I memorize the shape of your cheeks.

“I liked being a baby. Tell me about when I was a baby.”

And I did.

You turned to look at me then. Big, dark brown eyes filled with intensity.

“Please, mama, remember everything about six. Everything.”

I’ll tell you the truth, Lala. I floundered as I tried to sort through all the files and piles in my brain, pull up anything tagged “six.” I remembered the bike riding and the lost teeth and your prayers and kindergarten. I remembered how you discovered your love of writing in journals — how you said, “This is my heart” when we stood among all the pens and notebooks in the art store.

I remembered you doing your own hair and dressing your dolls with your sisters and standing on the floor at kung fu with many kids much bigger than you. I remembered the way you sometimes stood strong and other times wilted, and I wasn’t always sure what to do, maybe because I recognized me out there. The mix of fierce and tender that can feel misplaced and confusing.

“Sweetheart, I will do my very best to remember, and you too, but we will forget some things, and that’s okay.”

You didn’t look at all convinced that would be okay.

“Did you know that you’re not just seven tomorrow? You’re every other year you’ve ever been. So you don’t say goodbye to six, really. Tomorrow, besides being seven, you are one and two and three and four and five and six all wrapped up in your body. And I am every year I’ve ever been until 41,” I said.

You studied me. “What about when I was zero?”

“Oh, yes, that was a very important year because that’s when you first learned what love was, and you stored it all up inside, so you’d be able to recognize love for your whole life.”

After I tucked you in, I cried some more with your papa — about how sad you were and about all the ways I’ve failed you and will keep failing you. About all I’ll forget and not be able to do for you, about how I can never show you enough how loved you are.

I’ll tell you that I recognized love then too, as I pushed my face into the down, when your papa said what he often says to me in these times: “You can’t forget that you are present for all of it. You are here.”

And down the hall, you slept the dreams of a six-year-old.

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