Sophie laughs and all is right in the world

First her eyes sparkle and scrunch up, then the corners of her mouth turn up, and up and up.

This is how Sophie smiles.

Her whole beautiful face is transformed.

And then, last week, the smile stretched and stretched as we played.

I'd lift her up then drop her down for a kiss on one cheek, then up again, and back down for a kiss on the other cheek.

Up and down we went, her smile growing bigger and bigger, her eyes sparkling brighter and brighter.

And then, a noise so unexpected it surprised us both.

Sophie laughed.

It was approximately 12:22 p.m.

on April 18 and it was magnificent.

The sound tumbled from her like a leaf pushed from a tree in a soft wind, it broke away unexpectedly, hung in the air for a perfect moment, then floated softly away.

Every day brings new milestones with Sophie.

Every day an achievement that seems more monumental than the last.

Sophie smiled.

Sophie laughed.

Sophie rolled over.

I watch in wonder, document like the silly proud parent that I am, and begin to understand that look in my mother's eyes.

That look.

In it is mixed all the magic and terror of being a mom.

No longer is Sophie protected by the curve of my skin.

She is vulnerable.

Soon she won't need my body to provide her nutrients.

Every day, with every milestone, she moves away from me.

As she wiggles in my arms, anxious to crawl, walk and run, as she coos and gurgles, impatient to talk, as she laughs, her red hair glowing in the sunlight, she moves away from me.

At times, when I hold her, I find myself unconsciously curling my body around her.

My back curves forward, my head down, my arms circled around her soft, plump little body.

Instinct takes over and I want to again be her barrier against a world that can be cold and cruel.

But the knowledge that I cannot protect her forever is at the base of a fierce love so strong at times my chest constricts in pain.

I gave birth to an overwhelming instinct to protect when I pushed Sophie into the world.

Is this what it means to be a mother? To live in fear?

Sophie laughs again.

Fear gives way to soaring joy.

And this, I think, is what it means to be a mother.

***

Sophie's arrival has made me think about mommyness quite a lot, and about my own mom.

I desperately want to be a good mom but I've realized that I'm not sure what that means.

I want to give Sophie the gifts my mother gave me.

Gifts without wrapping or bows that she can store in her heart.

Despite its myriad terrors, my mother gave me the world.

I don't really know how she did it, but she did.

Mom gave me a love for literature.

She read to me every day when I was little.

She took me to the library and to book stores and showed me the power of words.

Mom gave me a love for the arts.

She dragged me - when at times I was surly and unappreciative - to museum after museum.

I saw paintings by the old masters, by Impressionists, Cubists.

I saw sculpture.

She took me to the ballet.

Every year we saw The Nutcracker.

We went to see plays and to hear symphonies.

When we moved from Ohio to California, mom let us take a week off of school.

During that week we went, not only to Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm, but also to the L.A.

County Art Museum, to the Getty and the Huntington.

When my little brother revealed a vocal talent at a young age and was accepted into a prestigious children's choir, mom drove him one hour each way to the weekly rehearsal.

When my big sister's boundless energy had her doing flips in the front yard, mom signed her up for gymnastics lessons, another hour's drive in the other direction.

My aspirations being less lofty, mom was always available to ferry me and my friends to and from the mall or the beach.

We never had much money and mom always worked, but somehow, she managed to do it all.

For most of my life I took it all for granted.

I remember being really surprised and uncomprehending when a friend's mother wouldn't drive us to the mall because she "didn't feel like it".

I remember a time, I think I was in the eighth or ninth grade, when my mom bought herself a sweater - it was the first time I ever saw her buy anything for herself.

All of the countless, priceless gifts my mom gave to me, I want to give to Sophie.

I want to give her the world and for her to take it for granted that the world is her due.