When did I become a spectator to my daughter’s life? Once upon a time, not too long ago, I was THE key player in her daily routine – I was her chef, her consultant on all things fashion, her driver, and moral compass.

“No, on my own,” she reminds me every time I bend down to help her pull on her sparkly Toms over stubby toes and pudgy feet. She thrusts her hands out in front of her, the universal sign for  STOP!

So I watch.

I watch her pull on her pants in the morning. Muscular calves and thick thighs slide easily into the glittery black leggings she picked out for herself. She no longer waits for me to open the closet, pull out outfits for her to choose from. No more needing my hands to pull her dress over her head or her tights over her legs.

I watch in awe from across the dinner table as she kneels on a “grown up” chair, using her fork to skewer pancake and banana with focused intent. I remember how I used to cut those pancakes in half and meticulously separated pancake from banana at her request that “nothing touched.”

I admire from afar as she selects a puzzle from her toy bin, carefully carrying it to a place on the living room floor where she dumps out the pieces and begins to sort through them. I used to help her with that, I think to myself. I was her playmate.

When I am allowed back into her life to brush her hair as she plays in the morning sunlight, my hands take their time, no longer in a rush to hurry through those once mundane and pain-in-the-ass tasks.

I feel those warm cheeks – always warm – and notice how smooth the skin; no more mottled cheeks or baby acne on her chin.

I run my hands through her fine hair and recall how I used to worry that my firstborn would never grow hair; that I’d be forced to snap bows into the few patches of wispy blonde hair that seemed to only grow on the side of her head.

I feel the smoothness of her scalp that was once made rough with cradle cap. I would gingerly rub the skin on her head with mineral oil and baby oil during bath time, attempting to remove the rough patches from her otherwise perfect scalp.

When was the wispy hair replaced by a sun-kissed tangle of ringlets that she insists on wearing down – wild and uncombed, cascading over pale shoulders?

She shakes her head, reminding me that my time is up, breaking free from my grasp to run toward the kitchen grabbing her lunch box and backpack, ready to begin her day. A life outside this house, away from me.

“No, on my own,” she says as I move to open the car door for her, arms at the ready to lift up her warm body.

Now I step back and watch, my nose missing the morning scent of syrup and toothpaste when I’d carry her to her car seat. 

When did she stop reaching for my hand before walking out the door, up the stairs – anywhere?

So this is motherhood, I think during the drive to her school: a succession of memories and moments that comprise a lifetime of firsts and lasts, days that seemed endless and too short at the same time.

Phantom echoes of “mama” that will forever resound through my mind, reminding me of a time that seems long since passed, a lifetime ago. The echoes pull me back to a time when I was her sun, the center of her universe, the most important person in her life. The storyteller, the disciplinarian, the fixer of bumps and boo-boos, the best friend, her everything.

“No, on my own,” she tells me when I move to open the classroom door, taking a step back to watch her turn the handle and enter her classroom, a world filled with friends and books, inside jokes and new things to be learned.

I watch as my daughter, this former resident of my belly and constant companion, runs away from me at full speed. Her focus is on claiming her independence, a milestone every parent wants their child to reach one day.

But does it have to be today?

Now I just do my best to keep pace beside her, jogging with my arms extended hoping that from time to time she will fall back into these useless appendages that will always crave the weight – the warmth – of her body.