“Count from her due date, not her birthdate.” Dr. Vena said to us as we were leaving the hospital. We were anxious to get home after our extended stay. “Babies that are born premature often take longer to hit milestones.”
I was carrying your car seat out the door. Daddy was wheeling me in the wheelchair that was no longer necessary, but was hospital protocol. We were going to test how the never-before-used, but now full of a bundle, car seat would fit. We wanted to get home and rest in our own bed. We were nervous about leaving the medical experts that had been assisting us with you for the past couple days and figured a clean, quick break would be best.
Once home, I, your mother, followed absolutely everything the doctor said. I called the nurses advice line for practically every sneeze or blink of an eye. I believed you’d be hitting milestones later than other children, but you laughed.
Well, you couldn’t exactly laugh yet, but now that I know your mischievous little spirit and grin, I now know what that smirk on your face meant. You were going to go above and beyond proving them wrong.
“Can she roll over yet?” Dr. Vena asked a doubtful, a sympathetic smile on her face at your 3-month-wellness appointment.
“She started rolling back to tummy over a month and a half ago and can now roll all over the place.” I replied.
“What? Really?” She raised her eyebrows in disbelief.
“Yes, she’s starting to rock back and forth on her hands and knees.”
And just when I thought she was going to declare me a liar you got up on your hands and knees, making little high-pitched grunting noises to pull yourself up.
“Okay, then.” The doctor typed it into her computer and moved on.
Three months later, before most other babies your age were sitting up on their own, you were crawling.
It came out of nowhere. It’s like you woke up that morning, decided to crawl and started doing it. At first, you were really unsteady and reminded me of a little crab, always crawling sideways, but it only took you a few hours of practice and one nap before you could get everywhere and anywhere you wanted. Nothing in our house was safe anymore. No cupboard went unopened, no table or shelf was left unreached as you littered our floor with what used to be the orderly contents of our house.
I panicked as you went around the house that day and found everything on the floor and shoved it in your mouth. These objects had been invisible before, things the vacuum cleaner itself had missed and yet, now they were little hazards.
“Here hold the baby,” were the first words out of my mouth when your dad got home. I ran around the house and covered all the outlets. Having just walked in the door he nodded with a bit of a shocked look on his face, but then settled into a chair with you. You squirmed the whole time, practically doing flips in his arms.
When I finished he placed you on the floor. The first thing you did was crawl over to an outlet, reach out your thumb and forefinger, and pull one of the outlet covers out of the wall! You handed it over to me, giggled your little baby giggle and crawled in the other direction!
Daddy looked over at me, both of our mouths were hanging open and then we burst out laughing. What else could we do? You had outsmarted our baby proofing system and proved to us that nothing was out of your reach.
When you stood up for the first time, I told you “I’m not ready for this.”
Once we were connected. There was a you and there was a me, but instead of being on the outside you were my giant belly. Everything was a “what if,” or another person’s story. I knew you already, but I knew you as only this part of me. When you came out you just wanted to be held, all day and most of the night. Now, you were standing and soon our physical connection would end and it scared me that we will have to only rely on our spiritual one.
I didn’t want you to enter toodlerdom quite yet. I wanted you to stay in my arms. You were about to cruise along the short coffee table when I said it, but you paused and stretched out your little arms. As I hugged you, I told myself to be brave, let you grow, let you show me exactly what you were capable of doing. Now I wonder was it in that moment I took away your fearlessness?
Two weeks before your first Birthday, when I arrived home from work, you were in the kitchen with Grandma sitting on the floor by the dishwasher, which when running has always been your favorite white noise. When you saw me, you reached out your little arms. I bent down to pick you up, but instead of falling into my arms you stood up holding both of my hands. You were steady and standing. You moved your body in the direction where Grandma was still sitting on the kitchen floor across the room.
“Hi Sweetheart,” She said, “Did you want to come to Grandma?”
She reached out her arms and I knew you were steady enough to start moving. I held your hands while you loosley flopped your feet across the tile floor to land in her arms for a hug and then we all celebrated. We smiled, we cheered and we all clapped as Grandma and I swang you around the kitchen.
After that moment, I figured in just a few weeks you would be walking on your own.
That’s when what the Doctor said came back to haunt me. It has been months and you still are not walking on your own. I can feel that you’re ready. Your ankles have tightened up, you steps are predetermined. I can feel you balance and yet when I let go you immediately sit down.
My fierce love for you does wish you to always be within my grasp, but I want to let you know, I think you are ready.
I want you to know it’s okay to let go of my hands. Let go of Daddy’s hands. Just let go and try it on your own.
I know you will probably end up falling the first few times but, you will heal and you can get back up. You will learn. You will find a new sense of confidence and awe in your personal accomplishment and with that you can gain the determination you need to take on the world.
You’re going to need that strength to fight the dark away. It is here you will start to learn how to fight the monster under your bed; how to walk through the school doors on your first day; how to practice being kind in moments when no one else is; how to make a breakthrough that will lead you to your passion; and how to vote for the politicians that will make the world a better place. By taking your first steps, you will learn to be brave.
So when you decide to let go, don’t worry Mom and Dad are still going to follow you. We will follow you way up into years you would rather we didn’t. There will be many steps after your first steps. Your first steps are just going to be the beginning of you experiencing the world in a whole new way.