When Isabelle was one year old, I brought her to Lighthouse Beach to take a Christmas card picture. I wet her hair so her curls would bounce back and dressed her in an outfit I had chosen weeks before. I threw some Pirate’s Booty in a baggie and headed out as the sun was about to set. The sky was a December hue of pink and purple, the water was calm, and the wind didn’t request our attention. I dug a little hole and plopped her in it. I made funny voices and faces to try to get her to smile. I took a hundred pictures on my new digital camera and was pretty certain that she wasn’t smiling in any one of them. But she looked more beautiful than the ocean, sky, sand, and beach grass behind her, so I scooped her up and went home to make Annie’s mac and cheese for dinner.

And since then a million moments have passed. The moment she took her first steps, rode a bike, and got her license. The day she cut her first tooth, lost her first tooth, and got her braces off. Her first day of preschool, middle school, and high school. The first word she said, the day she met Emily, and the hug I got when she came home from 5th-grade camp. These moments are stored in my mind bank under “important.”

But some of the ordinary moments tricked me. Without the courtesy of a head’s up, they snuck past me. They failed to alert me, “WARNING, THIS IS NOT ORDINARY!” Not even the faintest whisper. And I missed them. Missed the last time I’d carry her on my hip, hold her hand, and pick her up from Sturgis. Missed the last time I’d read her stories before bed and push her on a swing. Missed the last time I’d comb through her tangled curls while she told me stories about recess. Missed the last time I’d pick out her outfit for school and watch her play with toys in the tub. And missed the last time she’d call Mom watch!, need help with a homework assignment, and make me promise to leave the bathroom light on. I’m pretty sure I wished most of these moments away. (Except holding her hand, I’ll never wish that away.) Because these moments didn’t seem so special. They seemed like things to check off of a very long daily checklist.

But if I had known it was the last time I’d nurse her, hold her on my lap, and carry her to bed, I would have paid attention. I would’ve wiped the kitchen counter later because she wouldn’t write another letter to Santa. These last moments would be in my mind bank under “important” with the other ones. But they’re not. I unconsciously thought that my moments with her were endless and promised. That there’d never be a time I’d scramble to understand where all of them went no matter how much the older woman at the grocery store warned me.

A few weeks ago, I brought Isabelle to Lighthouse Beach for her senior pictures. I told her it was serendipitous the photographer had chosen that spot. Isabelle smirked because she’s kind and humors me. She styled her own hair and chose her own outfit. We talked about college deadlines in the car instead of singing to The Wiggles. There was no need to bring Pirate’s Booty in a baggie. I made funny faces to get her to smile. I could see my one-year-old. The one I thought would be little forever. The one I couldn’t imagine would be a senior in high school. Just like that. Seventeen years later.

I didn’t scoop her up when we were done. I walked beside her. I paid attention. I allowed the ache in my chest to take up space. I questioned if I could hold my love for her inside of my body without it exploding.

We got in the car and went home. I sat in the car after she jumped out and watched my hot tears hit the steering wheel. I took a deep breath, went inside, and made tacos dinner. And on that ordinary day of ordinary moments, the extraordinary moment didn’t need to alert me. My heart whispered This is it.

Mom to teenagers who spends her time writing, teaching, and eating papaya. A champion of kids with chronic or critical illness and the moms who love them.