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Marianne Richmond’s If I Could Keep You Little is a sad-sweet little read and a wonderful gift for new and expectant parents. The rhyme scheme can be a bit clunky in a few places, but that hardly diminishes the book’s overall charm–like so many Pixar movies, If I Could Keep You Little is a gentle meditation on the passage of time as well as a mindful celebration of everyday moments.

And, I’ve got to say, it was a totally different book when I first picked it up about a year ago.

If I Could had been gifted to my daughter at her first birthday party by a very dear friend of mine. I cracked it open that night and immediately burst into tears:

     If I could keep you little,

     I’d hum you lullabies.

     But then I’d miss you singing,

     Your concert’s big surprise.

I’m sure a lot of parents get a little teary-eyed when they first read this book, but for me, just reading that stanza, so many emotions came flooding back, that I had to switch it out with Llama Llama Nighty-Night before my daughter caught on that something was awry.

In fact, it was another two months before I could read it aloud without crying–not because the dreamy refrain echoed my own thoughts perfectly, but because I couldn’t relate to the sentiment at all. And that was what made my heart ache.

Up until then, “If I could keep you little” was the exact opposite of my parenting experience; never once had that thought crossed my mind. From the time she was born at 2 lbs 4 oz, “Go, baby, grow!” had become our mantra, as her time on this planet was plotted along a steeply arching curve, skimming along just below the “normal” growth scale. We counted calories, dialed up the protein, and methodically introduced new foods into her diet as our gastroenterologist recommended–first orange vegetables, then yellow, then green. Baths were very quick affairs, because as our nurses maintained, shivering was losing calories. And later, when Our Girl caught a cold bug, her appetite waned, and we nervously coaxed her into finishing each and every bottle.

So, no. Never in all that time, had I ever sat and thought, “Aha! If I could keep you little!” because that luxury seemed to be reserved for the parents of big, fat babies. And that made me sad.

Which is not to say we weren’t mindful, because we were most definitely mindful. We drank up every delicious moment of kangaroo care, every flash of personality, every new discovery. Maybe because of prematurity, my husband and I learned to savor these moments as they came and never take anything for granted.

Nevertheless, like I said, a little over a year now and If I Could Keep You Little is a totally different book that when I first cracked it open, now that my daughter has neatly closed her developmental gap and then some. She has always been a strong little girl, but now she likes to show it off. Last week, she climbed to the top of a waterfall at an indoor playground and yelled, “I’m tall! I’m strong! Roarrrr!”

So I think I “get” it now, even though much of the wistful what-ifs are still lost on me. Rather, the book has for me become a bit of a retreat, and an effective way to reset a toddler-volatile, sugar-rushed kind of day. She always laughs at “I like ketchup with my grapes!” and I always think to myself, “chill out, mama, we’re reading right now, and everything is good again.”

No matter how you read it though, or whatever your impression, If I Could Keep You Little might be a children’s book, but it speaks directly to the adults in the room.

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