"It's bedtime, Rowan! Let's go! Up! Up! Give your dad a kiss goodnight, and let's go!"
She runs to the stairs, and begins to climb, pausing as her head pops over the banister, and waves goodnight to Lucy. Hand over hand, she goes up. I follow, arms full of clean, folded diapers, a baby bottle full of soymilk, and whatever else. An occasional bump on the bottom from my knee keeps her motivated. She hands me small bits of lint she finds on the carpet as she makes her way up the stairs. I open the top gate, and she stands, running off to find a book or a toy or perhaps one of her dad's shoes.
One of us chooses a story, current favorites being A Wocket in my Pocket and Tous les Amis, and I sit in the old rocker. She takes the bottle, and either joins me or busies herself with other toys as I read. Some nights, she follows the story, pointing to the characters and drinking noisily. Others, she's a cowgirl riding her horse Diane, or a builder, making a MegaBlok tower.
The book finished, I turn out the light and head to the bathroom. I know she'll never leave unless it's dark. I wait, and she joins me, often with another book in hand. I prepare her toothbrush, and stick its little suction cup to the counter. When she's ready, she comes over to get it, playing with the suction cup and giggling, before brushing her teeth, also known as chewing on the brush, with the occasional arm movement. "All done!" she cries, throwing up her arms. I put her on my lap, and finish the job while she protests and squirms. We head back to her room, shutting the door behind.
In the dark, I make my way carefully to the chair, slowly, so I don't knock her over. Her night vision is much better than mine. She comes to my knees, patting them, ready. I pick her up and she wraps her arms around me, tucking her head against my neck. I offer her the pacifier, for sleep only now, and she pops her head up, opening her mouth to accept it.
We rock. She lays against my left shoulder, her left arm curled around me. She sighs. I kiss her neck. "I could kiss you a thousand times a day, and it would never be enough, my beautiful girl," I whisper. She sighs again. We rock some more, the chair creaking. Suddenly, she sits up, pulls the nuk out of her mouth, and gives me a big kiss. In goes the nuk, and her head goes down again.
"This is my favorite time," I say. She nods against my shoulder, and hugs me tighter. We rock.
Again, suddenly, she sits up, looks at me. "Are you ready?" I say. She nods and tries to say, "Ready!" through the nuk. "One more hug," I ask, and she obliges, as I scoop her up, my arm under her bottom, and take her to her crib. "I love you soooo much," I say, "do you know that?" She nods against my shoulder, and squeezes me once more.
I lay her down in her crib, covering her with her quilt and tucking a bear beside her. "Goodnight, my beautiful girl," I whisper as I turn to leave. She jumps up to standing, and smiles. She waves, and blows me a kiss. I laugh, blow one back and close the door.
This is my favorite time.