It’s one of those days that is begging us to come out and play. The seasons are on the cusp of change, the warm breeze hinting at what’s ahead. After a week of gray, impermeable skies and nonstop rain, this sunny day is a longed-for gift.
I dress my daughter, Selah, in her denim overalls embroidered with bright pink hearts and zip her into a pink fleece jacket. The hood has generic animal ears—too long to belong to a bear, too short to belong to a bunny—and I pull the hood over her spout ponytail. She toddles off to get her shoes, plops herself onto the floor, and sticks her feet in the air. I slip her tiny feet into the sparkly Mary Janes, then mine into my worn-out sneakers, and we’re ready for a walk.
Selah walks the first few blocks, holding her daddy’s hand for support, looking up at him and laughing every few paces because she’s so proud of what her legs can do. When she grows tired I pop her into the stroller, where she kicks and sings, “Na na, hmm hmm” for the rest of our walk.
When we get home, we let Selah play in the front yard, partially because we want to soak up every minute of this day and partially because she will cry as soon as we go inside, begging to go back out. I run inside to grab another layer for myself, and when I come back, Selah has already discovered something new.
My husband, Dan, calls out to me: “Hey babe, watch this. She’s been walking over to the driveway and then running down. I think she likes that she can go fast.” My heart sinks as I think about all that could go wrong, starting with a single misstep.
Selah and Dan are on the far side of the yard, and I watch as she she sets her sights on the driveway and walks off in pursuit of her mission, waving bye-bye without turning around. I follow her, not willing to let her run down the driveway without me there to catch her if she falls.
Sure enough, she reaches the driveway and gingerly steps onto it, her toddler feet still not yet skilled at navigating a change in surface. Once she’s steadily on the pavement, she starts to walk, and then her tiny feet pick up speed, and soon she’s running. Her mouth breaks out into a toothy smile, the kind that takes over her whole face, and she lets out a giggle, clearly delighted with herself.
I run backward in front of her so I can grab her if she trips, but she keeps trying to dash around me. She wants to see where she’s going, escape from my protection.
I want to scoop her up and tell her not to do this, that she’s not ready. I want to say to her, You can try this again when you’re steadier on your feet, less likely to trip and fall and get hurt. There will be plenty of time for you to run later; for now, let’s be safe!
But I know she won’t understand, and even if she could, she wouldn’t care. She wants to go fast. She wants to be free.
My daughter has never been a person who is content in her current season. When she was a newborn, she broke free from her swaddle every night, and I’d come in each morning and find one arm stretched high above her head, another near her face, two fingers in her mouth. She would writhe and cry anytime I tried to hold her in the classic cradled way, preferring instead to be facing out or hoisted over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes, looking visitors and the world right in the eye.
When Selah was five months old and still wobbly, she insisted on sitting up like a big kid, crying for me to support her. She learned to sit up on her own at six months, and the first time she did it without falling over four seconds later, she looked at me with such pure joy, her eyes wide with wonder at what she was doing all by herself. I like to imagine she was thinking, This is what I’ve wanted all along! This is why I was an unhappy baby! Her endless crying finally ended when she learned to crawl, and no sooner did she learn to walk than she learned to run.
The swings at the park delight her to no end, as does Daddy’s extreme version of the airplane game. She practically slides down the stairs every morning, and she bounces around on the couch every evening. She has no fear of fast and always wants more of it.
She is her father’s daughter—happiest outside, in the grass, exploring new territory. She is my daughter, too—always looking for a thrill, always racing ahead, always on to the next thing.
I’m guilty of racing ahead in my own life, desperate for the next season and failing to enjoy what’s right in front of me. I couldn’t wait for high school in my new town, couldn’t wait for college and new friendships and independence, couldn’t wait to graduate and get a real job and pay my own bills. Later I longed to be married and then yearned for a full womb and then ached to meet this little girl growing inside me, flesh of my flesh.
My labor was long and intense, and I grew more and more anxious to get this baby out, not just because I was exhausted but because I wanted her on my chest already. I needed to see her button nose in real life and not just in ultrasound pictures. I needed to breathe her in and call her mine.
I was so focused on getting her out of me and into my arms that I didn’t hear her cry. The doctor broke my concentration like she’d broken my water a few hours earlier, telling me what strong lungs my baby had, and then it registered—I heard my girl’s voice for the first time. With all the energy I could muster, I gave a final heave.
My daughter came free, and the doctor placed her on my chest. I had imagined that I would hungrily take in every bit of her in this moment—every wrinkle, every finger, every toe. Instead, I was so awestruck that I couldn’t take my eyes off her unexpectedly chubby face.
This tiny girl took me by surprise with her strength as she lifted her head and locked her eyes on mine. All I could do was whisper, “Hi, sweet girl,” over and and over, willing the moment never to end.
Life has been moving faster than ever since Selah came into it. But the moment her eyes met mine, my perspective shifted from I want to get to what’s next! to I want to stay right here.
The woman who used to wish away the time became the mother who wanted to keep time from moving forward. Before this, I had tried a thousand times to live in the moment and to be fully present, but it took the arrival of a tiny girl to make me love my current season, to cause me to wish my life, and hers, could just go a little slower.
Selah continues to race ahead of me and ahead of herself, wanting to be bigger and faster and stronger than she is.
I continue to pull her back to me, trying to keep her safe and small just a little longer, trying to keep us together in this sacred moment in time.
Brittany L. Bergman is a writer who is passionate about telling stories that provide refreshment to mothers who don’t want to lose sight of their identity. Her first book, Expecting Wonder, is about the transformation we experience as we become mothers. You can find her on Instagram or get her free self-care planner for busy moms.