Charlotte is taking inventory of the photos on my first floor. At three, she lives far enough away that I don’t see her nearly often enough. But this also means there’s always something new to discover at Gigi’s house.

“Mommy, Aunt Sof, TomTom,” she ticks off, pointing to a photo on the shelf above my kitchen sink. Her mother, aunt, and grandfather are all much younger than the versions she knows, and Aunt Sofie is particularly blonde, but Charlotte knows her people.

“Mommy,” she says, looking at a photo of her mother at five. I can’t say whether my daughter’s facial features have changed significantly over the past decades, because in my mind, she’s sometimes still that little girl in the picture, the one twirling a parasol and smiling at the camera.

The photograph in the living room is harder. “TomTom and Gigi,” Charlotte says, and I’m not sure how she nailed that one. We’re very young in this photo. We’re also very sleep deprived, because my husband is holding a five-week-old.

“That baby is your mommy,” I tell Charlotte.

“Oh.” She absorbs the info, then turns back to study the photo. “Baby Mommy.”

The photo was taken by my daughter’s godmother. “You look so glamorous!” she told me before snapping it. “Like a movie star!”

I do not look glamorous. My daughter made a grand entrance two weeks early, right smack in the middle of law school mid-year finals. I look like someone recovering from a surprise c-section, someone who hasn’t slept more than a few hours at a clip in over five weeks, someone trying to figure out how to find her brain in time to rally for one last semester of school. But it’s more than that. Beneath the fatigue is deer-in-the-headlights bewilderment that nobody told me the truth: saying “yes” to motherhood makes a person vulnerable for the rest of her life. It won’t matter how big or how old this little one gets. My intense love for her means that when she soars, I’ll soar. When she hurts, I’ll hurt. Worse, there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.

“Baby Mommy,” Charlotte repeats, satisfied.

Charlotte helps with dinner. She likes mashing avocados for guacamole, and although she doesn’t like the guacamole itself, she enjoys scooping out what’s left of the avocado from their peels and licking off the spoon. She’s a whiz with a salad spinner; we have never had drier lettuce. We play a lot, too. Since Charlotte’s birth, the fact that I still have Playmobil people and their playground set looks less like procrastination and more like foresight. Images of Baby Mommy flicker across my mind as I transfer a Playmobil figure from swing to sliding board. My granddaughter looks so very much like her mother did at this age.

My daughter suggests a photo of the three of us. I skip my usual protests; lately, making memories feels more important. Charlotte perches on my lap, grinning as TomTom takes the picture. The photo doesn’t show that Baby Mommy—my baby, Charlotte’s Mommy—is every bit as tired as I was in our decades-earlier pose. Like most moms, she juggles almost more than she can hold. Sleep will remain a memory for at least fifteen more years. Looking at the photo on the phone screen, I can tell that she, too, has discovered the emotional trade-off that comes with fierce mother-love. Tiny but mighty, babies take up residence in our hearts and refuse to leave.

It’s time to go home. Charlotte accepts the fact that she will need to wear shoes in the pouring rain. She is still chattering when her mom tucks her safely into her car seat.

The house is quiet again. For the most part, our daily lives have snapped back to pre-kid days, when our own schedules came first and time flowed more generously. It’s nice, but sometimes my core yearns for the long-gone whirlwind that once made up the fabric of my life. But I also know that loving completely means letting go.

On Mother’s Day and every day, I’m grateful for not only the women who bravely scoop us into their hearts, but for my kids for giving me the chance to love this hard. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.