If I counted up the hours spent watching my sleeping newborn daughter, it could total weeks. I delighted in the milk-drunk smiles, the perfect cupid's bow of her mouth as it silently twitched, the strange horse whiney sounds she made.
Whether in the dim light of our bedroom or on the couch after an early morning feeding, I knew I was one of countless mothers doing the very same thing at that very moment, doing nothing more than quietly reveling in the gift entrusted to us.
What I did not realize then was that I was likely to watch that sleeping child every night for as long as she is in my home, and that I will continue to marvel at her as much in her sleeping hours as in her waking ones.
Let me explain.
For several months now, I do not know what I will find when I climb the stairs to 5-year-old Maria's room to check on her before I turn in. She makes me wonder, and laugh, even in her sleep. Still.
Two nights ago, I found her asleep on the landing outside her room. She had made a perfect pack for herself -- pillow, blanket, snuggly. Other nights, I have found her on the floor of her room, right next to her night light and with an odd assortment of trinkets lined up beside her -- a ceramic cat, hair bows, a Dr. Seuss book or a stuffed bear, her chiming baby hair brush, a notebook. It always looks like an altar.
Yet on other nights, she is in bed with a knit hat tied around her foot --- it's stretched out, long and turns itself inside out -- and her prayer book is placed on the pillow next to her. Or, the hat is neatly folded around the prayer book and she's laying her head on it. And sometimes, she leaves drawings at the top of the stairs for us to find during the last round -- our family at the beach, tall trees, princesses with long dresses, pages full of circles and squiggles.
Each night, I study what she has done and wonder what she was thinking when she did what she did. I resist the urge to wake her to ask about the latest installation piece or drawing. I bend down to kiss her sweaty head, taking in her scent -- a sweet mix of coconut shampoo and royal violets cologne -- and always think the same thing: "I find you so interesting, Maria. Even in your sleep.''