“Mom, it’s wiggling again, like seriously wiggling.” She had her finger wedged in the side of her mouth as she said it. Her head was in my lap, the clock read 8:20. All of us girls were cuddled up tight on the couch, pjs on, teeth brushed, watching The Voice.

Sean and I had talked in the kitchen earlier in the night. “They all have their homework done and Briar was amazing helping me this afternoon,” I whispered. We were standing close, sweet reward for a full night’s sleep and a day that went unexpectedly smoothly. “I say we get them fed and washed up for bed. I’ll read a chapter of the book and then we can let them watch The Voice.”

He nodded, “You know it’s only on at 8, no On Demand.”

“I know, it’ll be ok. It’s just one night and we all slept well last night.” We’re in an odd space related to sleep. The big girls press to stay up later, Fin too sometimes, but their growth spurts and the weight of certain days of homework have them shuffling their feet and rubbing their eyes. We stretch toward older kid bedtimes and then sling shot back with weepy mornings or grouchy evenings.

I looked down at Finley’s face, her brow was bunched up and her finger had stopped moving. “You ok? You want me to get you a tissue to hold it? We can pull on it softly,” I said. She looked up at me eyes pooling, “Yes, please on tissue. No thank you on pulling. I don’t want it to come out just yet.”

I slipped off the couch and into the bathroom for a few squares of toilet paper. I cam back and handed it to her softly. She wrapped the white paper around her finger and slowly poked her finger back in her mouth. She pressed her head into my side and I traced my fingers along her temple.

Briar and Avery were rapt, their eyes scanning the screen, fingers pointing to the performers, “Oh, that one, it’s totally going to be that one. Don’t you think?”

I smiled and wiggled my toes, they tickled Briar’s tailbone and she wrapped her arms around my foot and squeezed twice. “Love you, Ave,” I whispered across the couch. She stretched a hand out and rubbed my leg, “You too.”

After a few minutes Finley took the tissue, crumpled it in her hand and leaned into me. “I’m going to ask you a question and it’s ok if it’s no. Would you want to go upstairs with me and read a few books?”

I tried to read her face. “Do you mean after this show?”

“No, I mean, the girls can tell me what happens, who wins, you know. I just wondered if you would want to go away with me now to read.”

I beamed. “Of course.”

She grabbed my hand and we darted upstairs, me whispering to Sean where we were going as we flew out of the room.

Upstairs she raced down the hallway and called to me, “You get in my bed, I’ll bring the books.”

I nestled under the covers, part of the blanket had slipped between the bed and the wall. I pulled it back up and found it had been resting on the heat register, I pressed the warm fleece to my face. It smelled like conditioner. I looked around the room, the map decals on the wall conjured the squeals of the girls from nights past, “Which states have no in them?” Sean would call like a game announcer.

“No-rth Carolina!” Ave screams.

“No-rth Dakota!” Briar shots.

“Illinois,” Finley squeals.

“Good job, Fin,” Sean calls with admiration.

“Vermont and Montana have it backwards.” Laughter.

She bounded into the room. “I have Pirate GirlΒ and Despereaux.” Her mouth still struggles with making an r sound, so Pirate came out like a growl. She smiled at me and I looked at the gap on the top side of her mouth. A stubborn tooth, still hiding, leaving the space from the last tooth to fall out wide open.

“How’s your tooth?” I asked.

“It’s ok, mom. I just sometimes don’t want the things to happen so fast. I’m not afraid of my tooth coming out, I’m just not wanting all my teeth to be done coming out.” Her hand was in mine. I squeezed it.

“You are a gift Finley, always have been, from the day I found out you were in my tummy to the day we brought you home.”

We read the books slowly, there between the warm fleece and the bright colored states. We traced our fingers over the pictures, reading together, and flipping back to check things on pages we’d already read.

There are days when it feels as if the color around us is fading in real time, like a vintage filter being applied to the moments we are living. I bat and flail to keep things crisp and vibrant. Other times it feels as if we are characters in a book, just like Pirate Girl, our colors staying bright and rich, and the letters and sounds of this time perfectly preserved upon each page.

FinleyHike