It felt as though we waited an age for you to take your first steps. With every other milestone you seemed to reach it pretty much at the textbook moment. When we put you down in your own room for the first time you stayed there all night and have done (mostly!) ever since. We knew you were ready to start weaning at 6 months when you started trying to swipe any food or drink out of our hands! Your first smiles, first teeth, and first words came pretty much like clockwork. It felt like any time I checked an app and saw that you should now be rolling over, sitting up, giggling or clapping your hands, I’d realise you’d just started doing that very same thing that week. But with walking, you made us wait that little bit longer. Not very long, you understand. You did it at a perfectly normal age and we were never particularly worried, but it was the first time we’d found ourselves wondering when it might happen, and we couldn’t help but wish for it. You seemed so tantalisingly close for such a long time, but it seems you were happy enough bottom shuffling and crawling around, never giving us any impression that you were itching to find your feet. So we spent weeks encouraging you, moving your toys just that little bit out of reach, guiding you back and forth between us on the carpet, letting go just late enough for the other to catch you as you stumbled into their arms with that gorgeous grin of yours. And then one day, you just did it. You just let go and took a wobbly step all on your own. Then two. Then three! And I swear by the end of that week you were running about the place like you’d been walking forever and, almost instantly, I wanted to rewind time.
As you know, I don’t cope well with you growing. No sooner had you arrived in the world I was filled with a breathless panic about how quickly time seemed to pass. Every day I felt as though time with my sweet child was slipping away from me at a rate that made me dizzy. It was nearly 6 months before I could bear to pack away your tiny first size clothes, despite the fact you hadn’t worn any of them for ages, and I still struggle to do it now without shedding a tear or two. It didn’t seem fair to me that I had to wait so long for you, then once you were here I only got 8 weeks with my newborn, 12 months with my baby, a couple of years with my toddler. We hurtled towards that first birthday far faster than I could handle and I felt it so deeply. I desperately wanted to hit pause and just drink in a little bit more of you at a certain age before it was too late and you moved on to a new phase. It was the biggest conflict of my life so far, finding something so exciting yet so heartbreaking all at the same time. But that dreaded birthday came and passed, and what followed felt like a brief respite. Time finally slowed down. You continued to grow and learn new things, but it was every few weeks now instead of every day. Maybe it was in part thanks to Covid lockdowns and all the time we spent together every day, but despite the fact you weren’t technically a baby any more, I felt like I was finally able to enjoy my little boy for a little while without feeling the rapid passage of time. And then you started walking…
I don’t know what it is about this particular milestone that seems to speed things up again somehow. I think it’s simply how jarring it is to see my precious little bundle up on his feet, desperate to get out there and explore. You look so tiny and so unsteady on those clumsy little feet of yours, it’s all I can do not to rush to scoop you up in my arms and try to keep you there forever. You suddenly seem so vulnerable now that I can’t place you down in a safe spot and know you won’t move. The world now seems ominous, with all it’s sharp edges and climbable surfaces towering over you, full of potential threat. I have been groomed to want to protect you at all costs, and now that you are so intent on testing the limits and boundaries of the environment around you, oblivious to any danger that might pose, it seems like a much harder task. To be frank, I just don’t want you to do it. I want to wrap you up in your sling like I did when you were small, and carry you around on my chest where I can always see you and know you won’t be harmed. But I can’t. Because you aren’t my little baby anymore, and I can’t tell you how much that hurts.
The fear that you will hurt yourself is obviously very real. As much as I want you to enjoy your new found freedom I still can’t help but hover over you as you navigate the front steps, cling tightly to your hand as we head down the street and rush after you with my heart in my mouth as you tackle a slope a little too quickly. I try not to – I don’t want to be overbearing and I want you to grow to be a confident, independent child – but it takes every fibre of my being not to step in and fix everything for you, to let you learn by yourself. It’s just how I’m conditioned – I made a promise to always keep you safe and I can’t bear to see you hurt. But it’s more than that. You finding your feet means more than just the possibility of injuries and tears. It means I’m losing you. Not just yet, obviously. We still hopefully have many, many more years together. But it’s the start. It’s a stark reminder that from now on each time you accomplish a new skill you will need me that little bit less, and one day you will be a fully grown adult who, if I do my job properly, doesn’t need me at all, for practical purposes anyway. And I honestly don’t know how to deal with that. It’s a part of motherhood I always knew would come, but I didn’t expect it yet. I expected to cry on your first day of school, to weep as you moved into University halls, to feel the dreaded empty nest syndrome kick in when I realised you were no longer here but out carving your own path in life. But I didn’t expect to feel it when you were still so young, and I didn’t expect to feel it so intensely all because you finally took those first steps.
I know, of course, you will need me in other ways. I hope you will come to me for advice when you aren’t sure what to do, that you will seek my reassurance when you are scared or my comfort when you are sad. And I know between now and then I still have much to teach you. But I also know that this is the beggining of my needing to let go. I need to stop looking to protect you all the time and instead help you learn how to protect yourself. I need to accept that I can no longer promise to catch you every time you fall. But it’s going to take time. So please forgive me, little one, if I sometimes grip too tight or swoop in too quickly. I will try my best not to follow too closely on your heels or to clip your wings. I will learn to let go, but I’m not ready just yet. And once I am, please know that I will never be too far away. I may not be able to catch you every time you fall, but I will always be there to clean skinned knees, wipe away tears, kiss your little nose and hold you through the heartbreaks. I promise I will learn to let go, but I will always be there, Bailey. Always.