On the day of your party, playing baseball in the yard with bigger boys, your friend took a wrong swing and, smack— the bat hit your face. There I was ready to run and scoop you immediately into my already open arms to hide your tears in my embrace, but I didn't have to. Because you blinked and you blinked and you shook your head and checked your nose with your hands to make sure it wasn't broken and you squared your skinny shoulders and screwed your face into a stone mask and you didn't cry. Not a single tear.
Not in front of your friend, who, after all, hadn't meant it.
On your real birthday, which this year came on Mother's Day, just like the day you were born, I heard you say to your grandfather, over the phone, "I am planning to visit the science center. Did you know they have a new exhibit on Charles Darwin?" and it occurred to me that I couldn't remember ever telling you Darwin's first name. Like so many things you know these days, and didn't learn from me. You read it somewhere, when I wasn't looking.
At the museum you did not want to hold my hand while we walked across the bridge above the highway, and in fact when we came to the plexiglass cutouts in the floor that offer a dizzying view of rushing cars and pavement far below, you, grinning, jumped on one, hard, to show off for a pretty little girl who was scared to look down.
This week, suddenly, as if given unspoken permission by the calendar, you have become a child who runs out the back door without asking me to come with you and watch you play. I watch you anyway, from the window. You sidle, head high, shoulders back, toward the older boys next door, brandishing your yellow plastic gun by way of invitation to a game of Space Police (a game you have invented, and lead with the assurance of a director giving instructions to actors on a stage).
But yesterday you were home sick and you sat with me for nearly an hour on the couch, leaning your head against my shoulder while I wrote. When I finished working you said, "Mommy?" I said, "What?" And you said, "Mommy? Mommy? Mommy?" Smiling slyly like it was a silly joke.
Still I knew what question you were really asking. The one you suddenly feel too old, at the ancient age of six, to ask.
And the answer is yes. This year and next year and the year after that and even when you're 100 years old and I am 123, yes.
As long as I have breath to say the word, yes. Whenever you need me, I will be here.