They have all gone now

I laid in bed the other night, waiting, knowing it was the last night of our visit; the last night of my children returning to the nest so I could pretend they had never left.
I know they are meant to leave, are meant to stretch their wings so the air can lift them from the branch, but part of my “mother soul” is stuck on repeat and I still want to tuck them into bed and hear their stories and lean in for the whispers of what matters to them and fall asleep knowing they are safe.
I want to tie their shoes and brush their hair, and assure them nothing can harm them while they are on my knee.
But of course, time marches on and they are mothers themselves, and I watch with wonder and awe at their patience and capacity to love.
I see the Mother Bear in them; the shoot-first-ask-questions-later when it comes to protecting their child, along with the teaching of life’s lessons of sharing that is never easy for anyone under three feet tall (and sometimes not easy for those of any height) and lessons about waiting their turn and eating their dinner and brushing their teeth and learning to walk and trying to talk.
I saw the look in my daughters’ eyes, the look they give in brief moments when raising toddlers–a look that says I’m not sure I’m going to survive motherhood.
They will.
There were squabbles about who was playing with what first and there were tears of frustration. But there was laughter, the kind of laughter that soaks through your skin and you never want it to stop.
It is the most precious of sounds–the sound of children and fun.
I am still able to close my eyes and hear my own wee ones, their laughter shaking their bellies, their eyes sparkling with joy, and I freeze-frame those moments to carry me through the winters of life, when I sit back in my chair, the light coming over my shoulder and shining just right on the pages of my favourite book.
I lay my head back, forgetting the words in front of me and remembering instead the sounds, the moments when a hug solved all wounds, when baking their favourite cake was the absolute best thing, when humming a familiar song with their head against my chest made sleep simple and swift, and dragging my fingers through their long hair soothed all the demons that raged.
And when they have gone, for a moment in the silence and among the scattered toys and forgotten socks and scuffs on the wall and fingerprints on every surface, I can’t remember who I am.