If I had to describe my daughter’s behavior in a word, it would be careful (or, more precisely, care-full).

Careful to mother the little ones.

Careful to project competence with her peers.

Careful to sound smart (or, failing that, ooze charm) when she’s talking with adults.

Careful to run fast enough that everyone notices but not so fast that they make a big fuss.

Careful to check in, one hundred times an hour, looking for my okay, my approval.

When she acts silly, it is almost always for a reaction.

Silly, but careful. Deliberate. Calculated.

It is rare, so rare, that I catch a glimpse of the carefree childhood that might have been.

Head bent low to catch the stream of water shooting up from the ground.

Beaming, sputtering, dancing with joy.

Again and again.

Not for me.  Not for her friends.

This moment is hers alone.

Head thrown back in a fit of uncontrollable giggling.

Laughing so hard that there are no words, no breath.

This moment, three years in the making, she shares with her cousin.

No competition. No scramble for adult attention.

Just relaxed familiarity and a shared joke that is only funny if you are seven.

Out of context, these moments don’t seem remarkable.

They are the stuff of childhood.

Happy, carefree childhood.

But for this mama, they are also a hard-fought victory song.

A testimony to the power of love and structure and persistence and so, so much learning.

A reward, frankly, for sticking with each other through lots of mess.

For this mama, these moments of childhood embraced, innocence reclaimed, are a glimpse of grace.