She crouches in owl pose on the dog eaten bookcase, next to the window overlooking the driveway, little feet perched among soccer cleats and shin guards. I pause as I pass by.
She wraps her arms around my neck, tightly, too tightly and plants small seedlike kisses all around my cheeks.
Most mornings I am frantic, running practically shoeless out the door, coffee balanced on lunch and schoolbag in one hand, car keys and hairbrush tangled in the other. I’ve gotten skilled at the art of brushing in traffic.
She squeezes harder, desperate to impact change on the force of my forward motion with her tiny body… it is futile. I have to go, and she has to stay… an equal and opposite reaction.
Sometimes her little chin trembles and her eyes well up, which I hate because our eyes are mirrors.
Always, she turns quickly away and starts frantically breathing deep breaths onto the window glass as I walk out the door. She screams after me, “I’m making a heart!” and she traces one in the wispy fog with her five year old fingertip, in the exact same place she has for the past three months of her kindergarten year.
There are roughly 75 Chloe fingerprint hearts on that windowpane and I think often that if we ever sell this house I am taking it with me.
She screams that she’s making a heart, and she frantically traces it, over and over again and then she adds whatever motivational saying is currently beating inside her chest… I’m usually outside and halfway in the van, blowing kisses and smiling through tears, but I can still hear them because she’s yelling through the window. “Always be yourself” or “Don’t ever change who you are” or sometimes even “Don’t forget me ever do you promise?”.
This last one prompted the opportunity to wear her pink pliable plastic heart bracelet on my left hand. She slipped it on one morning, worried that I would forget about her during the day while I work, completely separate from where she is. “You can wear this, Momma and when you look at it you can remember all about me and how I’m making a heart.”
I’ve told my students all about this, and instead of smiling at the cuteness of it all, they have basked in the brilliance of the idea… Two of them have gone home and given their own parents keepsakes to remind them of their presence when they’re apart.
It’s a tradition born out of her separation anxiety… separation anxiety that all the “momma cards” packed in lunchboxes couldn’t fix, nor could her own little trinket, to remind her of me. It does not matter that I have told her a thousand times that I am always with her, that she carries me with her, that I remember her with every beat of my heart.
But this… this carrying her around with me… this works. She’s no longer anxious during the school day. Her teacher hasn’t rocked her, in tears, in over three months.
And I wonder.
I wonder how this five year old can possibly be as perceptive as I now know she must be. To see the sad behind the smile. To seek comfort through comforting. I wonder to what extent this routine has changed the eyes that meet her own every morning as I’m walking out the door… these eyes that mirror hers. I wonder if it has helped her to feel secure to see that she has grounded me in feeling more secure.
I wonder if she knows already that I need her as much as she needs me.