The freckled forehead of summer has subsided on this early-autumn, sixty-something degree morning as yellow and brown leaves slowly trickle down from the trees. Through our large back window, I’m watching the recently-returned rainbow rooster scratch for bugs underneath the rosebushes. He has a new companion – some black and brown chicken that I haven’t seen around here before. King Ranch left for work moments ago with his sack lunch and Little Foot is on the living room floor banging a remote control against a lonesome coaster that was previously part of a set of four.
The dripping of our coffee maker has finally slowed down so I head into the kitchen – the linoleum cold against my bare feet – to pour myself a cup. As I lift the coffee pot, a few drops fall onto the hot plate with a sizzle.
“Bap, bap, baaaamaaaa,” says Little Foot who is now crawling towards the kitchen table, still holding the remote control. Thing One and Thing Two have started frantically barking in the backyard at what I assume is the same squirrel that teases them daily from the branches above. I finish stirring a new flavor of creamer (Bailey’s Mudslide – the non-alcoholic version) into my coffee and take a few careful sips while standing over the kitchen sink.
This particular morning is a typical one for us. I pack King Ranch’s lunch while he gets cleaned up for work. We tag-team in ensuring Little Foot’s whereabouts. He leaves for work. I drink a cup of coffee. As soon as I’m done, I’ll prop Little Foot on my hip and we’ll go out to feed the animals. I’ll brush the donkeys and pick up any laid eggs. It’s our routine.
To have these daily rituals is a blessing. King Ranch and I have talked often about how we each, separately, felt unsettled for so long – both of us having moved every single year since college and often going through bouts of living paycheck-to-paycheck. This grounding to finally grow some roots is a welcome, albeit challenging, shift for us.
It’s challenging because we are in the quiet and still vacuum of incredible change that has happened to us in a very short period of time. In less than two years, King Ranch and I have gotten married, gotten pregnant, changed careers, become parents, moved across the state to a place where we knew no one, and bought a ranch. Trickled in there are new vehicles, lost and gained friendships, a car accident, travel, and many, MANY sleepless nights.
Little Foot begins to giggle so I walk back into the living room to see what’s so funny. As I turn the corner, he’s standing there on his own with one hand in his mouth and the other reaching out towards me. He’s not next to the chair, the table, or the entertainment center (as promised, we did get rid of the TV stand from the epic emergency room night.) He’s standing in the middle of the room.
This is shocking. I’m not sure what I’m seeing. He looks so tall. I freeze so as not to startle him.
“Nee,” he says as looks up at me, grins and takes one step towards me with his left foot before tumbling down.
My God. Was that a step?
He pops up onto all fours, grins again, and speedily crawls towards my feet like a baby sea turtle headed to the water for the first time.
“Baby!” I say in a high pitched voice, “Did you just walk?” I pick him up and squeeze him as tight as I can.
I don’t know how he managed to get to this spot to stand in the middle of the living room. I’ve only ever seen him able to pull himself up on furniture.
“Wanna try again?” I say to him as I lower him down, feet first. He bends his knees and falls to the ground. Over and over, we do this – I try and stand him up and his legs fold over like noodles.
I decide to put him down to crawl around as usual while I finish my cup of coffee. My heart is pounding heavily as I imagine him standing there in the middle of the room. What a sight! He looks completely different when he’s upright on his own – so tall. So human. Thus far, he’s only been a swaddled, cradled, rolling, and then crawling baby. There in the middle of the room though, standing and then taking a tiny step on his own – he’s his own human.
I’m sitting on the couch with my feet curled up underneath me while I watch him crawl around. Was that his first step? Is my kid really going to start walking?
I’m thrilled and I’m terrified. His first step. I’m so proud of him. But in a weird way, I feel like it’s a step towards me becoming obsolete.
I mean, I still can’t believe that I’m a mom. I don’t feel like one. Sure, I spend every waking moment of every single day either caring for or thinking of Little Foot. I’m up every couple of hours at night to do the same. But I don’t feel like mom yet. I thought that by now, I should know what being a mom feels like.
Instead, I feel like same old me, with all my anxious baggage, all my uncertainties, all my self-doubts. The difference is that now, I’ve got this little piece of perfection for whom I would do absolutely anything. I would fly across the globe. Learn Russian. Fight the masses. Infiltrate the mob. Dive to the deepest depth of any sea. I mean, whatever – I’d do whatever I needed to for Little Foot without a second of hesitation.
I start to cry. My baby took a step.
I start imagining what kind of steps he will take in the future. Where will those two unscarred feet take him? It’s overwhelming to imagine the fact that we all start here. We all start as babies with an inevitable turning point of stepping. It’s a step into individuality. It’s a step away from dependence.
He’s pulled himself up on the coffee table and is grinning at me with a rubber dinosaur in his hand. I smile at him and ask him what he’s doing in a high pitched voice. He let’s go of the table and takes six steps to me.
One, two, three, four, five, SIX, steps.
I slide down onto the floor, weeping, and wrap my arms around him. My little human.
We spend the next several hours falling down, standing up, wobbling around, and taking turns crying. In addition to the long list of changes that King Ranch and I are settling from, these steps are another change (that I’m excited about and proud of) in which I don’t know how to cope. I suppose we just go with it.
Billions of people have started here – a transition from crawling to walking. Little legs wobbly beneath balance-searching bodies take dozens of unsure steps followed by falls and upsets. But we never give up. We’ve all gotten up over and over again. Sometimes we cry, sometimes we laugh, sometimes we get hurt – but we always get back up.
I don’t understand how we can all start here and also have so much division. I don’t understand how arbitrary things like skin color, religion, social class, language, or whatever else can matter when we all start off the same way. Every human who is out there walking around spent weeks falling down and getting back up. They spent weeks crying and laughing and feeling both frustrated and proud of their capability to make that transition.
Yet division exists none the less. There are people out there in the world who hate and wish to destroy humans who are different than themselves. But the reality is, we’re not different. We’ve all been little wobbly, silly, unsure humans who just wanted so desperately to put one foot in front of the other. It’s society and experiences that begin to divide us as time goes on. So many people out there stop seeing others as human and only see others as different.
I think that’s why I so fear change for Little Foot. For now, he sees humanness. He sees love. And he sees that stack of books on the bookshelf that really need to be pulled down. I don’t want for him to see the division of people that exists so harshly out there in the world. I don’t want him to know what judgement or hate feels like.
Maybe that’s what being a mom means: being unbelievably proud of your kiddo’s first steps. Maybe being a mom means wanting your kid to only ever feel, experience, and see love in its purist form. Maybe being a mom is laying on the floor with them for hours while they try over and over again to take more steps. Maybe being a mom means not worrying so much about getting lost in all the uncontrollable change, but instead appreciating the human experience in which your child is beginning to explore.
Little Foot falls down in my lap and starts to rub his eyes. I think he’s worn himself out. I make him a bottle and bundle him up next to me in the rocking chair. As we rock, I hum the same James Taylor song to him that my dad used to sing to me.
I guess the fact is, I can’t protect him from the world forever. I also can’t control inevitable change. But I can be his mom, whatever that means. I can catch him when he falls. I can cheer for him. I can hold him tight. And I can hope that the roots we’re growing here give him the tools he needs to be a decent, loving, accepting, and caring human being out there.
He’s fallen asleep in my arms – his mouth slightly open with softly flowing milk breath. Outside, the leaves are still slowly trickling down as little gusts of wind twirl them around sporadically. I decide that for this nap, instead of laying him down in his crib, I will hold him and rock.
I don’t know what the future holds for him, King Ranch, or me; but right now, on this not-so-typical morning, we have this moment.