I hear the sound of the stepstool being scraped and shoved across the tiled bathroom floor. I'm in another room helping your big sister with her homework. Your dad is somewhere else in the house, trying to tackle a science fair project with your brother.
I don't stand up. I don't go to you.
I'm a different parent than I used to be. Maybe you've benefited from that or maybe you were always this way and we both got lucky because I was ready for you.
A decade ago, that sound would have sent me running to investigate, to make sure there wasn't any trouble or something unsafe happening. But I know you're capable, and I know you'll call for me if you want help.
It's only when I hear a muffled giggling that I look for you. And I find you stretched across the sink so your face is as close to the mirror as you can bring it. Your legs and feet are straight out behind you and your belly is balanced on the counter's edge. There's a wad of toilet paper coming from your mouth.
You turn to me with lit up eyes, "I pulled my tooth out, Mama!"
I was a confident mother when you came into my life; my last baby. I was ready to take everything I had learned about myself and give it to you.
You are confident, too. You don't accept or do anything unless it makes you happy. If I was still in the earliest days of parenthood, you might have made me crumble. Instead you make me swell.
I was going to give you my confidence, but every day since you arrived, you have been handing it back to me. And as I watch you grow, I'm growing too.
I've learned that I'm not bound to whatever path I first took as a parent. Each of you have taken me in different directions. Each of you have forgiven the mistakes I made along the way.
When I walk beside you, I am strong.
"It's almost my birthday, Mama. I want to look like a big kid."
Tears flood my eyes as I lean into your new smile and tap you on your tiny nose.
"Hi, baby," I whisper.
And you roll your eyes and flash your dimples, like we're exchanging a secret joke.
You'll let me get away with it this time, but without saying a word we both understand there's no baby in the room with us.
I watch as you run from the bathroom with your prized tooth. I let you sort out where you'll put it in anticipation of tonight's tooth fairy visit.
You are always running ahead. And even though I want you to stay right beside me, I let the space open between us.
I know you'll call, if you need me.
And even if it's just for a moment, you'll let me catch you.