Your nap is more than my excuse to lay in bed in the middle of the day; it’s the only time I can truly take you in. You still need love, holding my hand while falling asleep. Today I see your fingers, they’ve changed from baby fingers: they are slightly bigger, shaped more like a little girl’s. Tiny fingernails, some longer than others, hastily clipped. Soft, flimsy. Today I’m thinking how these hands will grow.

I picture them bigger. Images flip like faces in a deck of cards being shuffled upside down. Your hand, with rings, turquoise, brass, a diamond. Henna tattoos wrapped around your thumb. French Manicures, gel-polish, black chipping paint. I can see them typing maniacally on an iPhone 14s while texting a crush in lust or a best friend in anger. Your pointer finger clicking on a black mouse from a swivel chair at a desk-job, rushing to meet a deadline in an office with a big leather couch, a 3D printer, a Keurig and a fruit bowl. Or wrapped in rubber gloves, carrying a urine sample down a hallway in scrubs. Your knuckles, strong, gripping a greasy subway pole, holding a steering wheel at ten and two, pulling a cigarette to and from your mouth. These same hands. They will grow.

You are asleep now in my arms, eyes closed, putting lashes on display. These lashes. They are fluffy and meticulous, extending upwards with a curve into the sky. I look at the way they perch, balanced, as you dream.One day they will rest under a facemask in your studio apartment, or a pair of sunglasses in a hammock in your tree-filled backyard. They say lashes grow to the perfect length to shield the eyes. Yours seem perfect right now, but I know they will change: covered in two coats of black mascara, they’ll be the one thing that keeps the boy staring back, unable to give up on you. They will continue to fill with tears, first as they do now, in the innocent and unapologetic way a child cries, followed all too quickly by the indignant tears of a teen, as you throw a pillow or a book against the wall. Then will come the shameful tears of an adult, reluctantly appearing like dewdrops as you walk away from someone who has broken your spirit, or your heart. These same lashes will become all, or none, or more of these things.

And your tiny lips. These lips will kiss, they’ll smirk, they’ll love. They’ll taste exotic foods, pull on the flaky white paper of a joint on your way to an escape. You will line them in pencil, fill them with a deep red, pucker, blot, then pucker again. They’ll sit frozen in anticipation from a waxing bed at the salon. They will open, about to speak, then close, deciding no, it’s better left unsaid.

I stroke your hair. Small, patchy brunette fuzz, unruly even in its beginnings. Timid in its growth, causing strangers to call you “buddy” and say, He’s just adorable. These days you run freely, oblivious, unconcerned. When I tell you, Allie look, your hair is growing, you reach up and say: My air Mommy, look, my air, before forgetting it again. But as it grows, you will touch it more and more. At four, you’ll point to your curls in the mirror and say Look! Look how beautiful! and make me call you Rapunzel in the tub when it reaches down your back. And time will do what it does best: tiptoe on. Cut to a teenage vanity, where you’ll sit battling unruly strands with a brush, trying to make them behave, persistent, determined, annoyed. I would KILL for your hair, you’ll tell that too-perfect friend. And then your first boyfriend will run his fingers through it, and your heart will explode. You’ll sneak off quietly on early mornings from beneath his comforter to smooth it down with hand lotion in the bathroom before he wakes. And you will cut it all off, that day when you are feeling bold, then call me, crying, or proud, or both. This hair will grow, in length, and symbol, make you feel pretty, then plain, having too big a part in who you believe you are.

A child’s bones are more likely to bend than to break. This is something that can’t be seen, but can be felt. They have hearts that are more malleable, softer souls. You’ll grow and harden, become more specific, more defined. This tiny body that I’m holding now, it often feels complete. Most times, when I look at you, I see Alessandra, my littlest girl. But sometimes, in a glimpse in my rear-view mirror, or the quiet of a nap, you turn into paths of possibilities that run like veins, splitting and splitting and splitting until they disappear. And I realize what I’m seeing is a beginning. You are my beginning; I’ve never held such a powerful beginning this close. Holding and loving and praying for this beginning with all my heart.

I look at my own life, and in hindsight, it seems to have gone the only way it ever could have, like it had been planned out all along. My hands once wrapped around my mother’s finger; maybe she looked at me imagining the things I would become, like a mysterious future that has some secret course already mapped. But our destinies are hidden beyond the imaginations of even the person who loves us most; of all the pictures her mind created, none were able to pinpoint who I am now.

One day, Alessandra, when your future has unraveled, we will be sitting together, in a restaurant. You will be listening to the wine choices from a waiter with rolled up sleeves, nodding intently, and I will look over and see it like a reel of film. It will play backwards, all the way to your beginning, everything falling into place, making sense. And I will reach for your hand, your grown fingers, to hold and squeeze. You’ll look at me confused. Mom, what? What are you doing? you’ll say. Nothing, I’ll tell you. I just love you. Knowing that someday you will understand, when you have a beautiful, perfect, beginning of your own.

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