I sweep up the curls and secure them in a pearly white barrette. Greta looks bashfully at her reflection in the mirror. "That looks so pretty, Momma," she whispers. "Wow."
She juts her chin up and shakes her head. The curls sway to and fro.
"You look beautiful," I choke.
Color blooms in her cheeks and she casts her eyes to the floor, but she is smiling from ear to ear.
We're preparing for her First Communion later this afternoon. The past few days have been a whirlwind of shopping, cleaning and checklists. As she steps into her white dress, I take a moment to soak her in.
It goes so fast, I think.
Two years ago she still had all her baby teeth, and now only one remains, loose and stubbornly jutting forward, refusing to come out. It mocks me, this last remnant of her babyhood.
She slips her feet into her sandals, and I clip little white fabric flowers into her hair.
"Let me get a good look at you," I smile. She spins for me, and the dress swishes around her legs. This long-limbed beauty before me takes me breath away.
The other night I perched on a stool in a steamy bathroom, quizzing her in preparation for a geography exam while she showered.
"What is the largest mountain range in Europe," I shout over the noise of the rushing water.
"The Alps!" she shouts back. "Give me a harder one!"
"Name two landmarks in Asia!"
"The Taj Mahal, and the Great Wall of China!" she replies immediately. "And the biggest river is the Yangtze!"
Images of her little chubby self splashing in the tub, laughing at the bubbles, flash through my mind. Now I'm quizzing her on world geography.
She giggles on the phone with friends, dribbles a soccer ball effortlessly past a defensive line and writes in a diary every night. She pulls her hand from mine when we walk through parking lots, casting her eyes about to see if any of her friends are around.
She is growing up.
I feel perched at the beginning of something - the next beginning. There are so many beginnings, aren't there?
That night, after the ceremony and celebration, I pull her aside and tell her I have a special gift for her. She rips off the paper to reveal a pretty gold box adorned with handmade paper flowers*.
"It's a God Box," I explain. "If you're worried or anxious, or you have something you need help with, or want to pray about, you write it on a piece of paper and put it in the God Box. It helps God help you."
She runs her fingers over the flowers and smiles. "Thank you, Momma," she says. I love that she still calls me Momma. "Can I put things in there that I'm excited about, too?"
"Of course," I reply. "You can talk to God about anything."
Later, as I read a story to Finn, she scribbles something on a piece of scrap paper, folds it into a tiny square and places it carefully in the God Box. "It's something I'm both nervous and excited about," she says. "Do I have to tell you what it is?"
"Of course not," I reply.
She smiles. "I'll probably tell you about it soon," she says. "But right now it's between me and God."
I'm letting her go bit by bit, I think, but she'll never be alone.
I lean over and give her a kiss, completing the nightly ritual we have done since she was a baby. My heart aches for the day when this may change. I smell her cherry blossom hair and stroke her cheek.
"I'm so proud of you, you know," I whisper.
"I know," she says.
*God Box handmade by my talented friend Catherine. Her Etsy shop, Ellis Lynn Studios, is here.
**Black & White photos by my brother, and professional photographer, Rob Strong.