“Mama,” she shout-whispers in the dark, “scratch my belly.”

It’s been a bad day.

She was three in all her glory today. Attitude, tantrums, stubbornness, poop in her panties mere minutes after I’d tried desperately to get her to use the potty.

I yelled. She cried.

And then no nap.

By 4 o’clock, I was ready to walk out of the house. I threw my hands up, let her out of her bed (where of course she was playing on the stuffed-animal mountain she had busily constructed while she should have been sleeping) and tried my best to calm down. It took a while.

I had grand ambitions for this Friday. I’d work while she slept. Transcribe an interview recording for a story assignment. Start packing for the beach. Vacuum the drifts of dog hair covering every single inch of our house.

That was my mistake. Setting unreasonable goals, then beating myself up when I don’t reach any of them. And I am terrible at letting go of expectations.

Three-year-olds are unpredictable little tornadoes. I do, she undoes. I clean, she dirties. I ask, she ignores.

And then she poops her pants.

But tonight, as we lie in bed and her breathing deepens into sweet little toddler snores, I finally let go.

I listen to the cicadas and other night-bugs making music in the trees. I hear the air conditioning click on and feel the cool air wash over us. Inhale her hair and kiss the top of her head.

And I keep scratching her belly.

She is mine, and I am hers.

No matter how crazy we make each other.

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