“Momma, I did,” Nora insisted, “I made it all by myself!” She giggled and threw her arms out at her bed. That night, the pink and white striped comforter was lying taut and flat, the hem of it hanging at a perfect horizontal line on three sides of the bed. The frilly pillows with rows of ribbons, and the pink heart one, and the purple sequin one were propped up neatly against the white iron headboard; even the stuffed unicorn was standing on all fours in the middle of the bed. This handiwork was not a trademark of hers.

“You did not,” I said, keeping it light. A year earlier, I would have scolded her for the blatant dishonesty. Lying is bad. Lying means you are hiding something, and you should never hide anything. And if you feel the need to hide something, well, then that means that that something is bad. And you should not do anything bad. So, don’t lie, okay? Tell the truth. Now, I try not to quickly react and speak to a four-year-old as though she was capable of comprehending my reasoning.

“If you say that I did not make the bed, then who did?” Nora’s tone of voice had shifted, and the playful glint in her eyes had disappeared.

Nora cries too readily, I think. She once broke down when her grandmother simply asked if her foot still hurt. And even though, as a child, I was even more sensitive than she is now, I am rarely the most patient or understanding parent when she wails to the point where she has to stop to catch her breath. In fact, I become so riddled with anxiety that she could smell it simmering in my chest, fueling her tear tank further, I am sure. I was on the verge of hurting her feelings that night with my honesty, and I really, really didn’t want to, because I really, really didn’t want to deal with one of her episodes that could eat into the alone time I was looking forward to. After an entire month of holiday festivities, I needed some child-free time to put the house back in order so that we all could resume normal life. I needed to empty my bedroom of all the gift wrap paper and bows, locate permanent homes for the girls’ new toys, and throw out dead poinsettias. So as Nora and I removed her pillows and turned over her comforter, I thought that maybe if I didn’t answer her, she would let the subject pass.

“Come on, let’s get under the covers and read our books!” I said, lifting Erin up onto her sister’s bed. Erin happily situated herself in between my legs, running her small warm hands up and down them in small caresses. But when she saw Nora planting herself beside me, she scrambled to sit in between the two of us.

“Who made the bed, Momma?” Nora asked.

“Your grandmother.” I opened the Pinkilicious book and asked which story in it that she wanted me to read.

“Why do you say that?”

I knew where this was going, and I knew that how soon I would be able to commence my alone time was well in my control. I had a couple of options. 1) I could be dishonest and tell her that I was joking, that I knew all along she had made her bed. Ha-ha, I punked you, Momma, she would retort with a satisfying, deep chuckle. 2) I could cushion the truth and tell her that she and her grandmother must have made the bed together. 3) I could be completely honest but risk jeopardizing the entire night for myself, but, perhaps, help her?

Unlike when Nora bursts into a cry that does not make sense to me, I am patient when she talks to me about her sadness. Lately, she has done a lot of this. A few weeks ago, Erin came down with pink eye and was placed on a new antibiotic. Because I feared that an adverse reaction might occur in the middle of the night, I brought her to my bed for observation. Sometime later that night, though, Nora wandered to my room, and I invited her to join us. She was not, however, content with sleeping to one side of her younger sister, insisting that her place was the center of the bed. Erin, who had been enjoying snuggling with me, was not in agreement and fought to maintain her position, which caused Nora some tears. I shared Erin’s stance on the whole matter, but my heart hurt for Nora, who, I believe, would pick me over everyone else almost anytime. So, why, she must sometimes wonder, can’t my mom love me the same way? Nevertheless, I had to tell her that she would need to return to her room if she was not happy with where we put her. “Momma,” she whispered over Erin’s head, “when you talk like that, it feels like no one wants to play with me.”

On the night Nora interrogated me about her bed, I decided on my response. “I said Lok Yeah made it because it looked very neat.”

“I can make my bed neat.”

“Not that neat, my love,” I said.

Nora’s bottom lip quivered as she sat up and kneeled beside Erin. “Momma,” she said matter-of-factly, “you made me sad.”

“I don’t mean to make you sad. I don’t ever want to make you feel sad.”

“But you said that Lok Yeah does a better job than me.”

“Well, she does make the bed better,” I said.

“That is not nice. When you say things like that, you make me sad.”

I am proud of Nora for many reasons, but her ability to unequivocally state her feelings is near the top. I dragged her onto my lap and cradled her, peering into her dark eyes that were black and round like the pit of a longan, and I contemplated my next few words. Lately, I’ve given a lot of consideration to mental health, or emotional health, as I like to call it. I can’t help but imagine and shudder at the hurt and disappointment that Nora — and Erin — will inevitably experience as they get older, and I wonder how I could protect them from such emotions. How will they overcome them? What will keep them from questioning themselves or their truths when someone comes along and admonishes them for their bed-making skill? I wish my love for them could be planted within them, almost like a seed, a tiny but determined seed that will grow and become a part of them, yielding deep roots to keep them up so that they don’t lose themselves to the harsh wind. As I swayed Nora on my lap and Erin by my side, I said, “I don’t ever mean to make you feel sad, Nora. I love you and Erin. That is the truth.”

That night I was able to store away the rolls of wrapping paper, ball up gift receipts and throw them out with the wilted poinsettias, and make myself a drink. The next morning, after she had gotten dressed for school, Nora asked me to enter her room. That morning the comforter was lying taut and flat, the hem of it hanging at a perfect horizontal line on three sides of the bed. The frilly pillows with rows of ribbons, and the pink heart one, and the purple sequin one were propped up neatly against the white iron headboard; only the stuffed unicorn was out of place.

Learning To Swim

“How do butterflies know to fly to flowers for food, Momma?” Nora asked as she flapped her arms around our kitchen island. The wings she was wearing that day were about the size of her body, and pink with gold piping. A unicorn headband with ribbons bouncing from the back of it crowned her head. I noticed that her question was not about why butterflies fly to flowers for food, but how they know to do so. I suggested that she asks her father. “He’s a scientist. He would know.” I truly did not have the answer (the PBS show that she, Erin, and I had viewed that morning only explained the reason flowers were colorful: to attract butterflies).

Sometimes, Nora inquires about fairies. “Are they real, Momma?” I enjoy this type of question the best. 

“Do you believe that they are real?”

She would tilt her head to one side. “Yes.”

“Then they are, my love,” I would reply. In her young world, fairies with magic wands, mermaids with glittery fishtails, and unicorns with shimmering hooves exist even though she has not laid eyes on one yet.

Photo by Kindel Media on

However, many of her questions require me to not only take deep breaths, but to count them, as though I am back in the third grade in Florida, where swim class was a requirement. “Take three deep breaths and then jump in,” the instructor would command as I stationed myself at the end of the low diving board, feeling as though I could throw up.

Several months ago, Nora gazed out our car window and asked about the gray stones that sat atop a hill. I wasn’t prepared to explain what a cemetery was, so I answered that I hadn’t seen what she was pointing at. The lie was a better response than the one I had given in a bumbling attempt to explain who Jesus was. Lately she wants to know why baby birds come out of an egg whereas a human baby come out of a body; if we all would be killed by snow and ice like the dinosaurs were; and when we would be able to go to heaven to bring Pluto back home.

Nora knows about heaven because one day Danith explained to her that Daffy and Kiri were there. When he and I were prepping for bed later that night, I asked why he would introduce a concept such as heaven to a four-year-old.

“Because,” he started, “she asked me where her brother and sister were.”

I groaned under my breath.  He wanted to know what the problem was.  “Now she’s going to ask more questions about it,” I retorted. 

“Just tell her,” he said, shrugging. Like it was that easy.

“It’s not that easy!” I hollered. Then I added that I didn’t want to talk about the subject any longer.

I was not wrong. Nora began to ask me what heaven looked like, whether it was far, and how we could travel there. I kept my answers basic but truthful, and I was actually beginning to get the hang of it. I only needed to remind myself not to expound on anything. “People say it is pretty.  And it is very, very far.” 

But Nora’s satisfaction with my brief answers was short-lived.   

“When can we go to heaven to get Pluto?”

“We can’t.”

“Why not?”

“He does not want to come back.”

“Why not?”

“He likes it there.”

“Why did he go there?”

And that was when I became eight years old once more, balancing myself at the edge of the diving board at the community pool that stood opposite my elementary school. As part of physical education, the abhorrent swim class ran about two weeks each spring. I remembered the drip, drip from my wet ponytail wetting my back and goosebumps puckering on my arms. I remembered watching my classmates climbing out of the pool and their feet slapping the ground, leaving dark marks in shapes of a crab or something more nebulous. They were all eager to return to the line at the diving board. I remembered peering down into the clear blue water, fearful of the burn and sting it would cause me as it rammed up my nose and into my eyes. I remembered, too, gasping for air as I scrambled to find my way up from the bottom of the pool; it always felt as though I would never make it. Come on, sweetheart, your friends are waiting. Take three deep breaths and jump in, the swim instructor would shout from below. I remembered the red whistle she wore around her neck and how dry her clothes and hair remained every day.

“Pluto was sick,” I said to Nora.

“He was sick?”


“Did he have a cold?”

“No, he hurt his back.”

“Did he see a doctor?”


“And he was still sick?”

“Yes.” As I braced myself for subsequent questions that would inevitably be about her passed siblings, I quickly added, “Hey, why don’t you go play!”

Photo by Valeria Boltneva on

It is the end of August. Earlier in the day I visited Whole Foods to pick up a small bouquet of flowers. And now we are at the river. The water is high, but the waves are only strong enough to smack the rocks. I gingerly sit at the edge of the boardwalk with Erin secured on my lap and Nora hip-close to me. With my nose and lips planted on Erin’s head I inhale the sun from her hair. Even though these visits to the river are not new to Nora since we return here each August to commemorate the anniversary of Daffy’s and Kiri’s passing, on the way here today she asked why we would be throwing flowers into the water for them. While I unwrap the bouquet, she asks it again.

“To tell them that we love them and miss them,” I say.

She buries her face in my arm and then cautiously peeks up at me. “But they can’t hear us.”

Many children around Nora’s age are asking similar questions about death, so she is not exceptional in that regard. And I know that I am not exceptional, either. What parent wants to teach her children that death exists? That it is real? That it will happen? To everyone, including their family members? Including themselves? Why must children have to fear the reality of death before they even stop believing in pear-sized beings that flutter around spreading magical dusts and granting wishes? I kiss her head and say, “I know.”

“Momma,” she whispers, “are they dead?”

I am scared of all the questions that will follow, but without hesitation, I forego breathing in deeply. And I forego counting my breaths. It has dawned on me that the swim instructor’s tip never helped. In the end, when I did jump from the diving board, it was hurried and messy. All so I could get it done and over with, all so I could scramble up from the bottom of the pool and learn to swim. “Yes, my love,” I say to Nora.

“Are they in heaven?”


“How did they dead?” I notice that she did not use the word die.

“They were very very sick.”

Quietly Nora accepts the white mum I hand her and throws it into the murky water. The flower floats in the river almost like a star in a night sky. Erin wants to offer the river something, too, so I pluck off a miniature coral carnation for her, and as I hold her hand so that we could throw the flower together, I teach her to say Daffy’s and Kiri’s names. “Bong Daffy, Bong Kiri,” Erin repeats as the three of us continue to take turns tossing roses, mums, and carnations.

Dream Like

It is bedtime, but Danith remains standing at the door of our bedroom. The light in the hallway frames his silhouette. Then, from our bed, I see his hand motioning for me to follow him, so I flip over the two blankets and gingerly slide out of bed, the cold chilling my bare ankles and feet. He grabs my fingers, and we tiptoe across the hall to the spare bathroom, where we stand at its window and gape down at our backyard. “Isn’t it beautiful?” he whispers.

“Yes,” I say. He circles an arm around my waist, and together we watch the snow fall.

Our backyard wakes up in the spring, when new leaves unfold like toddlers rising in the morning and when the Japanese magnolia spread their violet petals. But, on a winter night, when most of the trees have lost their leaves and snow has newly coated the ground and a silver grayness falls upon the property like a bedsheet, our backyard becomes sleepy. A cozy and dream-like kind of sleepy. Situated atop a hill, our two-story house allows us to view clearly the rolling hills that lead to the valley in the next town over — the faraway streetlights there make it seem that Christmas hadn’t already come and gone. Closer to home, we spy a car carefully crawling down our yet-to-be-plowed side street that ends in a cud-de-sac. The snow tonight is especially fresh and powdery, and it is everywhere.

“The flakes are so huge,” I say to Danith as my gaze pulls away from the car and to the snow falling outside our window. They drift down like rice paper crumbs. I heard that there are no two snowflakes alike. Have scientists actually researched this topic? And what was their reason for studying it? It seems that it would have been a waste of funding. Regardless, I find that conclusion hard to believe. In existence are so many, many snow crystals. So many. Just look at my yard. How could there not be two snowflakes alike? My eyes follow a crystal that is large enough that I can actually see the arms of it. I follow it until I can no longer, but I know that somewhere in my yard it lies with the other snowflakes, securing its place. And there I let it rest as my thoughts return to our Baby Erin who is sleeping in the bassinet beside our bed.

Very soon I will lift Erin, and while she is still peacefully sleeping, I will remove the sleep sack off her, carefully pull her legs out of her jammies, and change her diaper. Then I will carry her to the glider and place a bottle to her mouth, all while her eyes stay closed. I often take selfies of her and me at this time of the night and send them to our lovely gestational carrier.

Erin is three months old now. She weighed 6lbs 12oz and measured 20.5in at birth. She was born ferociously hungry, gulping down the colostrum and formula until she fell into a slumber that kept her from eating the following day. She was a strong newborn whose neck did not wobble and whose arms clung to me as though she were the baby chimpanzee I had wanted as a child. She has a soft dimple on her right cheek. She wakes up smiling (and, sometimes, before she falls asleep). And, sometimes, while she is asleep. When I press my face to her belly, she unabashedly giggles. While waiting for her arrival last year, I was worried for Erin. How would she view her place in our lives? She would be one of four children, one of two living daughters. When I had learned that she was a girl, my heart dropped a bit. If she were a boy, she would at least be of a different gender from her sister Nora. Speaking of Nora, we had waited fourteen years to bring her home, and only two for Erin. Would Erin ever believe our desperation for her?

At the window, I tell Danith that I want to wake up our girls to show them the snow. The ginormous flakes are beginning to stick to the tree branches, and white glistening mounds are beginning to form on the small hill where Danith had installed a wooden porch swing for me over fifteen years ago. The irony that I can see the depth and dimensions of our backyard better in the winter than in the summer astounds me. Danith tells me that I should wake up the girls. His response does not surprise me. I wonder if he remembers that at about this time four years ago, he and I were entangled in almost the same position, peering out at the snow in our yard, certain that our children were there. I tell Danith that I need to feed Erin now.

Back in our room, I open the bathroom door and leave it slightly ajar so that light from it lets me pace around our suite without tripping. After I warm the bottle in hot water and change Erin, I set her on my lap in the gliding chair, and cradle her head and neck in the crook of one arm. She is sleeping as she begins to suck on the nipple of the bottle. I can hear her soft suckle. I want to take my lips to hers. This type of feeding is called a dream feed; I assume it is because the baby is dreaming (sleeping) while eating. It is intended to reduce middle-of-the-night wakings, allowing the parent more sleep. I, however, give Erin the dream feed so that I could hold her while I am fully awake and am able to savor this alone time with her. After she finishes the bottle, I waltz around the room with her until she burps.

I sit back down in the glider and set Erin flat against me. Her plump head rests under my chin. She has her arms splayed out across my chest. Her legs are tucked under her bum, which I rub with one hand. My other hand pats her head that is not at all perfectly smooth. I stroke the warm band across the back, where her fine hair had shed. I trace my fingers along the skull bones around the fontanelle. I caress what feels like crests and crevices. I squeeze her body, and I half believe that I could swallow her if I gave it a try. I am overwhelmed by the weight of her flesh, how it sits on me, adding to who I am. I thank her for being here. I thank her for being a daughter. She suddenly whimpers and buries one arm under her face, and then she is sound asleep again. I feel that I ought to set her back in the bassinet and return to bed myself. Instead, I press my lips to the crown of her head and quietly cry. Nothing about her is a dream. She is real. She only feels like a dream.

Middle Ground

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The guest room never gets completely dark, even when all the lamps are turned off at bedtime. Light from the poles outside filters in through the sheer curtains so that the yellow-painted walls are glowing white. While lying in its bed, I can discern the outline of the large twig wreath hanging on a wall, the maple dresser and mirror, and the closet doors. And then, closer to me, the tip of Nora’s nose, and her forehead, and her hands with her fingers splayed on the bedsheet.

I began sleep-training Nora when she was one year old, against Danith’s and his mom’s wishes. Determined, I squatted outside her bedroom door, with the baby monitor beside me, blocking my ears to her screams and timing the length of her crying. Sleep-training a baby can illicit heated arguments; normally, a person is either for it or against it. Believing that sleep impacted Nora developmentally, I wanted her to get enough of it, to do it on a regular schedule, and to do it independently. I spoke with friends and sought the internet for the best way to train her, and after poring over the different methods, I gleaned from most of them one commonality: be consistent. Basically, this means that if I choose not to go into Nora’s room on day one after she has been crying for ten minutes, then I should choose not to go into her room on day two after she has been crying for ten minutes. Veering from consistency would most undoubtedly confuse her, causing even more frustration and tears. As I listened to her angry cries, my internal struggles forced me to question myself: was Nora wailing because she was sick, did Danith not think I loved her as much as he did, and would she wonder if I had abandoned her? Ultimately, I answered “no” to those questions. After a few nights of setting her in her crib, shutting off the lights and closing the door behind me, and not going back in even if she teared up, Nora began sleeping soundly through the night. Then, a couple of months later, we experienced a setback. Re-training ensued, and resulted in multiple cycles of success and regression. When she began talking, she yelled, “Momma, get baby out!” My heart steeled itself against her pleas. Quality sleep was necessary not just for her, but for me, and for Danith and his mom, even if they insisted that it was not. I had witnessed Nora’s ability to sleep deeply and without interruptions, in her own bed and without my help, so I knew it was possible. I could not allow my heart to soften and undo the achievement that she and I had made together.

Nora doesn’t sleep with us (and sometimes just me) regularly. On the nights she deserts her bed and surfaces at ours, she would say, “Baby want to sleep with momma.” When she is in bed with me, she oftentimes pushes her feet into my stomach or, if I am turned away from her, my back. And sometimes, she squirms around until she lies perpendicularly to me, her doughy legs crossing my thighs. It is not unusual that I lie awake when I am with her, such as I am tonight, watching her and listening to her breathing, the sound of which is reminiscent of snoring. I flatten the palm of my hand on hers. Her fingers are fleshy and warm, their mere diminutive size as evidence for how real she is. My heart hurts a tinge at the thought that these fingers will one day have calluses, and measure longer than mine. Tonight, I straighten her body and pull her into me, burrowing my arm under her neck and running it down along her torso and legs. With my nose in her hair, I think about Daffy and Kiri.

I remember securing Daffy, and then later Kiri, in the crook of my arm. I remember that short span of time on the hospital bed, when my mind wandered from reality. My baby was sleeping beside me, so nothing was amiss. I remember another moment, too, the moment when I lost my breath, felt cold, and wished that my last breath had been my final, for I was so, so afraid of what was about to come. In that moment I was seized by the inevitable: the weight of my baby would remain only as a memory. I hear and read it frequently: things happen for a reason, things will work out in the end. I hold contempt for such phrases, and sometimes I even become verbally defiant when someone says them to me. No, I don’t think so. If things had worked out in the end, I would have all of my children. But, lately, I am second-guessing myself.

Nora loves me with a devotion that was foreign to me as a child. “Even after you scold her, she wants to be consoled only by you,” Danith’s mom had pointed out about Nora. It is true. Nora’s father and grandmother coddle her in a way that I don’t. I am the one to leave her to her tantrum, to deny her one more minute of television before dinner, and to insist that she picks up her shoes when I instruct her to. Still, even after I reprimand her for throwing her spoon across the table and after she apologizes, she wants me — me only — to hold her. How does she know that my love for her does not ebb? I doubt that I am any more magnanimous than any parent who simply cherishes her child. I was the adult in our home who left her to cry on those sleep-training nights. She must have some recollection of that time. So, why does she make me, with my many imperfections, feel worthy of her love? Her devotion softens me and confuses me. Lately, such as tonight, I’ve taken to sliding out of my bed, creeping into her room, lifting her from her toddler bed while she is in her slumber, and carrying her to the guest room, where I set her on the bed and then crawl into it to lie beside her.

Guilt nags at me. I was so ardent about sleep-training Nora, and now I am potentially undoing the challenge she had triumphantly overcome. But I remember that short span of time with Daffy, and then later Kiri, in the hospital. I would have given anything not to part with my baby then. And now I don’t have to. Here is my opportunity to hold my baby the way I had wanted to. Could there be a middle ground for my dilemma? I consider those infuriating phrases. Could there be some truth to them? A couple of people have said to me that things have worked out for me in the end. Have they? Believing those well-meaning people would mean that Daffy and Kiri were merely stepping stones to Nora. The idea of this riddles me with further guilt. They are not opening acts for anyone, including Nora. But without them, Nora would not be here. Daffy and Kiri occupy my heart the same way that Nora does, deeply and without interruptions. The only difference is that they will never again occupy my arms. I remain certain of this: If everything had worked out in the end, I would have all of my children. But I am certain of the following, too. If not for Daffy and Kiri, lying beside Nora tonight would not be possible.

Look At Me

In one video of Nora, she is 14 months old, wearing gray cotton pants that I had picked up on sale at Target, white onesies with small flowers on the chest, and a pink knitted hat. Even though this is a home outfit, it is along the style that I have intentionally designed for her: clean, simple, and understated. In the background of the video, her grandmother is singing an upbeat Khmer song, and I am clapping to the beat: 1-2-1-2. At first Nora flaps her arms as though they are wings she can’t control, and jiggles from side to side, and then she rapidly claps her hands as she rocks on her feet. While she wildly shakes her head like she is in protest, she smiles so wide that it seems her entire body is laughing. When the song is nearing the end, she screeches in delight and reveals her teeth, fully satisfied with herself.

About five months after I took that video, I enrolled Nora in a Mommy and Me dance class. Following instructions from the dance studio, I ordered Nora leotards, tights, ballet slippers, and tap shoes. On the morning of the first class, I pulled on myself black yoga pants and running shoes and donned Nora in white tights and plain bubblegum-pink leotards. Her father waited to leave for work so that he could see her first. Wrapped in her dance attire, she reminded me of a plump rosebud.

At 19 months old, Nora was the youngest in class. She was also the newest, the other toddlers having had started about two months earlier. In the early weeks, Nora leaned stiffly against my leg while the other kiddos attempted to mimic the instructor, and I was beginning to wonder if I had registered her for the wrong reason. Had I done it for myself — because I had never had the chance to join a ballet class as a child? But after a couple of weeks into the class, Nora’s confidence emerged, and she began to dance as well as any new toddler could. She sometimes tapped her shoes along with me. She sometimes hopped like a bunny as she attempted to chasse. She sometimes stomped as she attempted to tiptoe. At home, she was eager to show off what she had learned from that morning, like her high kicks, and eventually she began to instruct her father, grandmother, and me to watch her. “Look at me. Look at me,” she would order as she lowered her bum to the floor, folded her legs into butterfly wings, and touched her nose to her toes. And we would clap for her each time, truly amazed with her ability.

Nora lived for her dance class that was on Saturday mornings. Throughout the week, she would ask about her classmates, particularly about the oldest little girl who wore a new leotard or tutu each week. She wanted to wear her tap shoes and ballet shoes around the house. She was eager to slip into her tights and leotards on the morning of class. I lived for Nora’s dance class, too. Watching Nora in that studio with mirrored walls and barres was like watching her dip her toes in the ocean for the first time. Her fascination. Her deliberation. Watching her assessing her world and then permitting herself to delve into that world helped me to better understand my world.

Back around December I had begun to hear talks about the dance recital that would take place later in June. Our class of kiddos from 18-month-olds to three-year-olds would dance (with their moms beside them) on stage for their families’ and friends’ enjoyment. I was not sure about signing Nora up for the recital, but I did not balk at the idea, either. Actually, I thought it would be funny, and maybe fun. Parents who wanted their child to participate would need to order a dance costume. After the holidays, I inquired about the cost. The price tag of $85 appalled me, and I jumped on my soapbox. I cannot, cannot in good conscience, pay $85 for a dress that my daughter will dance in for less than two minutes on just one day. Yes, I want to give her what I myself didn’t have, but I can’t do it. I just can’t! We are not those kind of people! No one — not Danith, his mom, or my friends — said that I was unreasonable, and after three months of agonizing over whether to purchase the costume or not, I chose not. Later, as ordered costumes were beginning to trickle in, I learned that it had a sequined bodice with peach and teal straps and a puffy tutu skirt of purple, blue, orange, and pink. Nora’s dance costume sounded like a cotton candy milkshake, so I was even more satisfied that I hadn’t spent money on such a frilly little dress.

Beginning in January, Nora’s class practiced the recital dance. Except for the two older girls, none of the other toddlers could keep up with the steps. None of us moms cared. In class, I began to let go of Nora’s hand. I stood against the wall during the warm-up routine, while the kiddos, in the center of the room, listened to the music for cues on how to move, like galloping like a horse or gliding like an ice skater. Nora managed her surrounding with both fumbles and ease, and I watched her with admiration. My barely two-year-old understanding that she had a place in the world. Nora’s confidence continued to blossom outside the dance studio, as well. Look at me, Momma. Look at me. I would drop what I was doing to watch her blow soap bubbles, to watch her teeter across a balance beam, to watch her fold her hands into a hive for imaginary bees to hide. While I watched her, I would sometimes wonder what was occurring in her head at that moment. I wondered because I was perplexed by this understanding and confidence that she possessed. As a child, I never asked my parents to look at me. Actually, I preferred that they didn’t. Their comments, although never outright mean, were often prickly. If I brought home a second prize, they reminded me that another girl had brought home a first prize. If I felt proud of a painting, they asserted that I should have been embarrassed for having cared so much about it. What did Nora see differently?

In March the dance studio emailed with instructions for group photographs. Everyone in a group photo must wear her recital costume. This was the first time I had learned that Nora and her class would have a group photo taken. Participation was, of course, voluntary. But how could I not let her be a part of it? This would be her first official class photo. She was well liked in that class, and she equally liked everyone. But she did not have a costume, and more urgently, the deadline for ordering one had already passed. The following Saturday, she and I left the house early so that we could stop by the office at the studio before class. I had prepared a long paragraph for why I now needed a costume for my daughter. Fortunately, the studio director did not need my speech. Pleasantly, she promised to try her very best to place my order. If she was able to make it happen, she said, I would need to pay an extra charge for the late order. Of course, I replied.

A week after I ordered the dance costume, the pandemic hit, most businesses shut down, and Nora and I no longer attended dance class on Saturday mornings. It wasn’t until five days ago — four months after the special order — that Nora and I drove back to the studio, to pick up the costume for which I had ended up paying $105. In the end I purchased a costume that my daughter will never wear for a recital, not even for two minutes on just one day. However, she does twirl in it in front of our windows, cook in it at her play kitchen, and run around in it on the playground. When we first pulled the costume out of the white tissue paper, Nora dragged it on the floor, exclaiming that it was so beautiful. After her grandmother helped her into it, she cried out to me, “Look at me, Momma. Look at me!” And I looked at her, the center of my world.