On the day after my first Mother’s Day, I ended my nearly 11-month stint as your “stay-at-home” mama. (“Stay-at-home” because, if we’re being honest, I stayed at home rarely on account of you wouldn’t let me. The outside beckoned.) I returned to work on Monday because I had no choice. Also, I really, really wanted to.
Which isn’t to say I wouldn’t have relished a little more time together, just the two of us. We’d already had more than most people, and we’ll have more later, I know. It’ll just happen on the weekends. And, the thing is, even if we had the rest of our lives to play and laugh and cry and explore, it probably wouldn’t be enough. When it came time to say goodbye, I’d still miss you.
You won’t remember the last 11 months, and I won’t forget them.
We started taking walks together when you were five days old. Through most of New England’s sweltering hot summer and breezy fall and icy winter and rainy spring, there were only a handful of days we missed. I watched as your sleepy eyes became more alert, staring inquisitively at the trees overhead, pointing at them, waving at them, talking to them in a language that sounded like celebration…happy because brown branches turned green, happy for their shade, happy for the birds, happy for nature’s mobile. You noticed things I failed to see, and you made me see them.
Once below a heavy, gray sky, I kept walking because you kept smiling until, a half-hour’s fast-paced run from our front door, it started to rain, pour, thunder. So I covered your carriage with a rain guard, and I ran. I ran and I ran and I ran. Screaming. Soaked to my underwear. And, because you had no choice, you ran with me. Laughing. Dry except, perhaps, for your diaper.
Another time, we came upon a Parks and Rec employee trimming back the branches of a low-hanging tree along our usual route. You burst into tears as if he’d nicked you with his gardening shears. Inconsolable. I knew you knew that tree. (Maybe you didn’t recognize it, per se, but you knew it like you knew all of them.) And so, without a second thought about how crazy I must have sounded, I was hollering for him to stop from 500 feet away. “Stop, stop! Wait! Don’t cut that tree!” To which he replied, in the native Boston accent that won’t sound like much of an accent to you, “Why not?” And I answered, running toward him, “Because it’s important!” To which he retorted, “Lady, it’s a f—in’ tree!” To which I responded, “It isn’t to her.” Which is when he really looked at you and put down his gardening shears. “Oh,” he said. He promised you he wouldn’t hurt the tree anymore and he gave you a piece of it to take with you. Your tears stopped like the flick of a switch as you stared at that big red leaf. As we walked on, I looked back now and again at the befuddled man who, hands on hips before the tree, found himself unable to continue his work…or the very decent man who waited until we were out of sight to do it. When we got home, I tucked the leaf away in the pages of a law school casebook where maybe one of us will wonder someday why we kept it. It won’t be me. I already know.
The thing that pained me most about our new reality was that feeling I knew was truth: You wouldn’t spend so much time outdoors. You’d miss the trees. And I’d miss you.
But if there’s one thing I learned over the course of our approximately 332 strolls together, it’s that, kiddo, the seasons (the ones that turn the leaves colors and the ones that see us grow up) turn, turn, turn. In this season, we learn to walk alone. Literally in the sense of first steps. Figuratively in the sense of spending so much time apart from that little/big person in whose face the sun rose and set every day since the day we met.
We’re just like the trees, honey child. We’re just like the trees. We keep right on growing, right on changing, right on weathering storms and being magnificent until the day we die. So, to this season and the next one and the one after that, I trust our little family will still be something to behold. And I trust we’re going be just fine.