Where to begin?

How is it possible to have two children and still not know all there is to know about being a mom?

She was unexpected. A secret I unwrapped on the morning of my 36th birthday. A third baby. And weeks later I would learn that she was a girl and it would terrify me.

Two years later it’s the thought of ever losing her that scares the breath out of me.

We started celebrating her on Sunday. Like everything this third time around I want to linger in the moments. The three kids crowded onto one kitchen chair so they can help mix up the German chocolate cake batter. More fingers than can possibly be good for this cake stuck into the bowl. Tiny tongues eager to taste everything. Zoe cracks an egg, pours in the oil, holds the blender, small hand folded tight around it in concentration.

Micah can’t keep any part of himself to himself. As much as we tell him to wait his turn, he’s rearranging strawberries, licking the icing off the knife, poking fingers into any part of the cooling cake he can reach to test it. It’s a clash of colors and tastes every bit as delicious.

When you walked toward me for the first time I was the only one who saw. Me and God, church on a regular afternoon between the building blocks of our playroom floor. In the evenings I pull your chubby legs out of the bath and plop you down on the white mat and you always stand on tippy toes with arms up and open and always you say, “huwwy mama, huwwy.” And then I wrap a towel around you until all that’s left poking out are your curls as I pretzel you up and into me and you bury your wet nose against my neck and we laugh. Every night.

How is such joy possible in so tiny a person?

You have bad dreams. You don’t seem old enough for them. But at night when you wake up from a dead sleep screaming, it’s always my name. Always you call out for your mama and always I come. Leaning over your crib I whisper peace into your ear and you calm and exhale and whisper back to me, “wuv you, mama.”

I don’t want it to be today.

I don’t want you to be older.

I’m surprised by the depth of my feelings on this. Zoe Grace, my sweetheart, I want to begin all over again. And at the same time I don’t want to miss out on what comes next. Because each part, each new corner, is the best. Glory Hallelujah, so much worship crammed into just two years – I’ve been your mother for an eternity and I’m just beginning.

Take my hand, slip all that fire and beauty into tomorrow with me and I promise to teach you how to dance. in the rain. Like so many summers ago on a front porch of an old Karoo farmhouse, I’ll teach you how to rush the grass and dance in the rain. Some days inside. Some days when it pours disaster I’ll teach you what it looks like to stand with face up at the sky and let it just soak you through, arms wide open.

Storms will come, sweetheart. And as much as it is up to me, I promise to always stand out in the rain with you.

But today, today I will feed you cake.

And re-count all your fingers and toes.