Today was big. Epic. Well, maybe that overstates what’s possible for a 22 lb. 12 oz. girl of 13 months and 2 days of age, but I was impressed.

Let me back up (I’ll return to this idea later) a bit. Mother’s Day was memorable this year – and maybe more memorable than April 17th. If I thought a step was miraculous, I don’t know what that leaves me with, because on Mother’s Day, she started walking. In earnest. One, two, three, four happy toddling steps, a grin of accomplishment lighting up her eyes like the steady light of the sun on a cloudless day. Again, then again, she toddled and tottered between us, walking toward toys, walking toward us, walking toward a future that will involve running and falling and climbing the many bookcases populating our apartment. A step was exciting, but real walking is astonishing, the real rite of initiation into toddlerhood.

“Touchdown!” my husband often says as she stutter-steps across the room, arms raised in the air like a goalpost, a minute football player ready to celebrate any victory. Her balancing act is charming. She’s taken to carrying objects, no longer reduced to dragging them behind her, grinning joyfully all the while. Her speed-crawling, lightning fast, is still interspersed with her walking, but it’s fading, soon to be relegated to the cobwebby past.

So she walks. She knows the moon and points to it in the sky and in books. She signs for books and more and milk, among others, and she’s finally learning the one for hurt (which is what I feel when she gets tired and treats my lower lip like a taffy pull). She can say moon and dog and many other things and just learned to say “turtle” this week. She has eight teeth including her first molar, the top left one next to the not-yet-present incisor, which just put in an appearance two days ago. She can moo and meow and imitate a dog, and she can make her hand like a lobster claw and pound her chest like a gorilla. My chest swells (with pride, not injury) at all of her baby skills.

Today’s additions were no different; they left us cheering “Touchdown!”, regardless of her arm placement.

Her little ball rolled away, and the cat, being much like my daughter, would happily have batted and played with it, too, until it came to rest in a location known only to her and to be found only upon moving or divine intervention. I didn’t have that kind of time. “Go get the ball!” I encouraged my daughter. She stood up, navigating the challenge of a dress that’s a little on the long side and not stepping on the hem, walked to the ball, and picked it up. She did what I asked! She understood! After our cheering, she beamed. “Bring it to Mommy!” I asked, on a high from our success. With a smile still shooting out rays of sunshine, she walked away from me and around the corner. She always has had a mind of her own.

Later, we were playing with her little soccer ball. I wanted us to sit facing each other and roll the ball back and forth (or try to), but she, being an independent-minded baby, had other ideas. As I sat on the floor, legs splayed, she stood in front of me, facing away, and took a few tentative steps backwards before plopping herself down. She sat between my knees. She stood again, took a few steps backwards, and sat again, nicely nestled with her back against my front, and there she stayed. Not only did she walk backwards, her first (and very successful) attempt at this, she judged distance and chose to be close to Mama. If my chest bursts, it’s going to get messy.

People say that babies get better, that they get more interesting, that they’re cuter than ever. I don’t think that’s true. I think she is as cute as ever, and she’s always been interesting to me; to say otherwise suggests that something was lacking in her infant self. I loved the baby that could almost but not quite lift her head. I loved the baby that learned to roll over. I loved the baby that pulled herself up on my leg. I loved the baby that learned to crawl after doing her own version of downward facing dog. I loved the baby that said “Hi!” as her first word then didn’t say it again for months. And I love this baby that is walking around like she just won the district championship with the final touchdown. We celebrate her; we carry her on our shoulders, and we know that she is as cute, as wonderful, as good as ever.

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