An ancestral concept rooted in the mysteries of children and the moments documented when one foot moves forward, a free fall into lateral space with clear boundaries but a leap nonetheless. Baby steps are representative of all the firsts; first everything and yet, most go by unnoticed and undocumented, hundreds each day and thus, taken for granted in busy households amidst the chaos of squealing siblings, schlepping totes, feedings, and fulfilling well planned schedules.
My own life and a history of firsts had slipped by me unaware after the birth of my first baby. With each subsequent child, I noticed and documented less of the baby steps. I would consider that fairly common, the completed scrapbook for baby number one and then they begin to peter off, scraps of scribbled weights and heights and slips of paper with early coloring and a stray birthday card or two, shoved in a discarded Tiffany box and hidden away until someday. Baby steps yet to be accurately documented, but they happened nonetheless.
An outlier of this tried and true theory, is the story of my fourth child, Amos. While I have no idea what my third child’s first word was, I have files of progress on Amos, yet the progress is minute and there have been a multitude of steps to reach the one baby step. All progress he has made has been carefully documented by the plethora of therapists and physicians tracking his progress, amazing strides though not even noticed by most, not by me until I became a special needs mom.
We worked for months to teach him how to say bye bye, actually not even say it but just wave. Every time we left anyone, we would go through the motions and after months of showing him, one day his arm flew up. A well-intentioned jerk from a concerted effort and he had offered a primitive good bye. I was thrilled and tears of joy fell; a year later, he will do close to the same if someone offers him a goodbye first and often without my prompting, his arm flies up and he says his rendition of bye bye. Still, my mind likes to fly forward and go to the place that reminds me that he will three in a few more months and baby steps aren’t nearly enough, not when his peers are leaping. Breathe and value the baby steps, I remind myself.
A summer at the beach and a much needed break from the routine of therapy sessions has allowed Amos and I and our family to just be. Be and watch the carefully planted baby steps, documented in a mother’s journal, on a heartfelt blog, shared aloud with family and friends. Freeing and without the weight of expectations listed on mimeographed sheets or typed into laptops. I don’t know much but I can read faces and the tone of words and though no one said it, I knew Amos seemed to be in a holding pattern of progress and that is never good. News and plans for surgery on his tongue came soon after and suddenly our summer was free for the taking, a respite where we could just be, a mother and her children free to explore and play. The gift has been amazing and this, the casual monitoring of baby steps has taught me a bit about who Amos is too.
Though he is slow to warm up to new activities, he is brave and will venture into his fear after much time and observation. New arenas are scary for him and he looks for a safety zone which his favorite is a swing. When he is not overwhelmed with activity, he will explore his surroundings. He never walks but always runs, runs with a lopsided gait and uses his hands for balance. Just three weeks ago, he would fly down the beach and back again, quickly finding his blanket and my lap. Now, he runs into the ocean and back again, sometimes stumbling or being caught by the mother who tries to give him space to fall. The last two days we have ventured into the churning waters and today, he squealed with delight and kicked and chirped and grinned big. The ocean which he did not dare go near last month is now his playground. Three weeks of baby steps and yet tremendous progress.
To acknowledge a beautiful life with Amos demands counting the little things; if you look too far ahead, you will miss the beauty in the small footsteps. What may have gone unnoticed by me before is no longer negligible and I try to etch in my mind the mosquito wings of Thoreau, though I do not stumble upon them. The arm that flew up for a goodbye that cold morning at the hospital, the head that learned to move up and down in a nod of yes, the hand that can sign please, the perfect word, “Mama” that greets me each morning. All lovely baby steps and when the world beckons me to count and measure, I will close my eyes and think of the little boy that today ran gleefully towards the ocean. I will follow his lead, the little boy no longer frightened of the expanse of unknown sea or really, his own future? I’m still working on that one.