The Things I Gave Her

The day is done they say goodnight and somebody turns out the light.
The moon is high. The sea is deep. They rock and rock and rock to sleep.[1]

I close our last book and CoCo wraps her legs around me. She flicks the lights off, then on again. Her nose crinkles and she giggles under her pacifier. It looks silly in her mouth but preserves her babyness. That and the way she rests her head on my shoulder when the lights finally go out.

I place her in her crib and she nestles against the upper left bumper of her crib, the same spot I would place her as a newborn. I put her blanket over her, touch her back, and brush her head.

Suddenly she springs up as if she saw a spider.

“I need my sweatshirt!” She cries.

I plod down the stairs and get her sweatshirt. I slip her arms in and zip it to her chin. 

“My socks!” she yells.

Again I go downstairs, get her socks, and put them on her feet while she stands wiggling.

She lies down and holds her pacifier in her mouth and I watch her eyes close.

Then she sits up, but not as suddenly. She reaches to the other end of her crib where her stuffed animals are smooshed together in a pile. She finds four animals, taps them each on the head once, places them down, and cuddles back up at the other end of the crib, waiting for her blanket.

I lean over the crib, tippy toes skimming the floor, and kiss her head. I start to walk away and jump back for one more kiss. “I love you, I love you, I love you!” I say as many times as I can. She giggles, I close the door, and walk down the stairs with a new weight on my shoulders.

I think of my brother at four years old, collecting leaves in the fall and crying as the wind would take them. I see him tapping walls in my mother’s arms before bed and when his medications caused his whole body to tic and tumble to the floor. I hear my parents shouting and sobbing behind closed doors.

I remember the phone call that pulled me home. I raced past my grandmother sitting uninterested on the couch and upstairs into my brother’s room. He was lying facing the wall, crying loudly. I lay next to him and wrapped my arms around him.

“Are Mom and Dad okay? Do you still love me?” he asked.

“Yes. Yes.”

And then moments later, “Are mom and dad okay? Do you still love me?”

“Yes. Yes.”

I let myself lean into the kitchen counter. The front door slams and I stand up, pour water and dry quinoa into a pot, and click the stove on.

Greg always says hello but looks beyond me—his eyes darting around the kitchen, surveying the scene. He spots the scars of messy children and a mother with only two hands. I hear him move to the dining room, pick up the mail and drop it down again, and walk loudly into the bedroom.

When he returns he is in sweatpants and has a warm smile.

“CoCo tapped four animals before bed tonight.”

He looks at me seriously and I can tell he is wondering how he should be reacting.

“It was ritualistic. Possible OCD behavior.”

“Okay.” He put down his fork, “What do we do?”

And I give him the answer he needs.

“We keep an eye on it. But there’s really nothing to do.”

I push away the image of a future conversation where I’m yelling at him between sobs, “We’re not medicating her!”


The next morning, I watch CoCo carefully. I observe her every move: throwing cushions on the floor and leaping from one to the next, building with blocks and screaming when they topple, arranging her animals to watch her dance recital complete with crown, tutu, and wand.

I remember that woman in Central Park with the shiny hair parted down the middle.

“She won’t nap!” I say on my tenth lap of the pond.

“Small kids, small problems. Big kids, big problems.” She says.

I felt like rolling my eyes but instead smiled and exhaled and she was gone.

Those words feel heavy today and I long for that day of pushing my stroller around the pond littered with tiny, white sailboats.

CoCo has an angelic face. It is soft and round, puckered, rosy, doll lips, a button nose, big, round eyes that are green with a ring of blue. Her dark hair parts to the side and make the blue in her eyes glow. Her soft curls frame her face and bounce just under her ears. 

When she was born I touched her lips with my pinky.

“She has a top lip!” I laughed. It was the most perfect mouth I had ever seen. And I was so thrilled I didn’t give her my mouth, that top line of flesh where a lip should be. 

When I walked around New York City with her in the Baby Bjorn that little, serious face seemed to take even a stranger’s breath away. Today I look at her and admire the beauty I created and think about what else I’ve given her. The things I don’t want her to have. I think of the time around her second birthday when she started to blink. Or six months later when she started to take big deep breaths every few seconds. Both behaviors disappeared but they stay sewn into my thoughts. Every so often I find myself waiting for them to reappear.

I used to tic when I was little. I stiffened my neck, shrugged my shoulders, flared my nostrils, stretched my fingers, twitched my nose, rolled my eyes. I suppose I learned to suppress them on my own, but if I think about it today, they all come back.

I don’t want her to have these ugly things from me or these scary things from my brother.

Tonight as I place her in her crib I remember rocking her to sleep, her tiny body swaddled tightly, her pacifier taking up most of her face, like a little glowworm, the kind I slept with as a child, a safe glow at my side.

She lies down on her tummy and doesn’t tap any animals. I cover her with her blanket, offering her all of the warmth and safety I have. As I walk away she yells, “MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY!.” One last kiss and the door closes.

Guest post written by Kim LiCalzi. Kim lives on Long Island with her husband and two daughters. She teaches first grade, runs very early, writes very late, and empowers her sweet and fierce little girls. 

[1] The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynto

P.s. This week on our podcast we're chatting with Heather Avis about adoption, how parents can teach their kids to be inclusive of children who may look or act different, and why raising a child with special needs is the ultimate honor. Listen here