I’ve been waiting a year for Frida to choose to walk. I say “choose” because at a certain point it became clear that she most likely could, she just wasn’t interested. She was busy memorizing every object in the house or bossing the dogs around or asking me if Judy Garland had a belly button. My working theory is that my daughter has lived a hundred past lives and has simply chosen to focus on what she’s missed, not the mundane task of rendering herself vertical.
When we were still allowed to leave the house, well-meaning grandmothers would often approach us at library story hour or playgroup to reassure me that they had a baby who “scooted around just like that” well into toddlerhood. “Now she’s 40 and jogs!” the grandmothers would say, their nine-month-old grandsons slack-jawed and stumbling in circles around us.
Last September a very kind, very midwestern occupational therapist began visiting every other week for 45 minutes to teach Frida how to walk. Because my baby has been surrounded by doting adults her entire young life, she was completely charmed by Holly and her upbeat affirmations from the start. So much so that when Frida pulled to stand for the first time in her crib she yelled “HAAAWLEE” as if conjuring her to receive praise. Now that Holly’s sessions are confined to spotty telehealth appointments, Frida has begun conducting elaborate home tours rather than participating in any real play therapy. I spend our sessions slowly moving my laptop around the house as she shows Holly all of the foolishness we’ve recently purchased to distract her from the fact that we can no longer venture outside of our protective family bubble.
When we first met with Holly to set therapy goals for Frida, her preferred method of transport was bouncing across the floor like a flying yogi
, which admittedly looks a lot more exciting than walking. The thought of her upright and ambling seemed so far off I just nodded my head yes, sure, of course, she’ll be climbing stairs in four months. Of course, she’ll be strolling to the kitchen in six. Frida has never done anything on anyone’s schedule but her own, partly because she is uniquely herself but mostly because we are biologically related. I remind myself to give her room to move at her own pace while loosening my brain’s attachment to arbitrary timelines and the words of all of those grandmothers.
Two weeks shy of her second birthday, Frida got up and began walking around the living room like a three-foot-tall version of Frankenstein’s monster. As she tossed herself into my arms, she scream-laughed “I decide to walk!” as if this had all been an elaborate ruse. Frankenstein has always been a metaphor for motherhood, right?
I used to keep a note on my phone listing all of the words Frida could say, but once she reached 100 it seemed silly to continue. These days, she’s figured out that puns are both possible and hilarious. “Peter Rabbit” is referred to as “Peter Robot.” “Winnie the Pooh” turns into “Winnie Poops.” “Horsing around” becomes “dogging around.” By the time she figured out how to crawl she was verbal enough to narrate the experience and would squawk “crawlin! Crawlin!” as she wiggled across the floor. Now, she proclaims “I not falling down!” as she walks to the kitchen.
Right before she falls over.
A lifetime ago Frida’s entrance earthside felt like one giant deadline the more giant I became. With Crohn’s Disease, spinal arthritis, and a handful of prior surgeries in the mix, my doctor was extremely clear that a tidy, scheduled c-section would be waiting for me at the end of the prenatal tunnel. I kept reiterating to my doctor how odd it was to choose someone’s birthday. He was kind but unamused, likely because everyone must say that while checking their calendars to see when, exactly, they’d prefer to be sawed in half like a magician’s assistant. We settled on May 2nd. Her middle name would be May. How perfect, we thought.
Frida decided to do it her own way on April 30th.
My water broke exactly how they tell you it won’t: in the middle of the night under a full moon. A rush instead of a slow drip. I took my time getting ready to leave for the hospital as if preparing for a final job interview or a first date. I showered and applied a full face of makeup. I blew my hair out. In the car, choosing a playlist for the forty-minute drive seemed like too much of a responsibility. What do you listen to on your last car ride as a childless couple? Jacob and I finally settled on soothing instrumental versions of pop songs, the kind of soundtrack favored by our neighborhood phở restaurant.
Three hours later, as I was shuffling my IV pole into the operating room, I paused to ask to use the restroom, much to the exasperation of the OB who had never met me before. “We’re about to give you a catheter,” she sighed, “you can pee all you want and not even worry about it.” But something about peeing on my own seemed important. If I died, at least it would be with a bladder I emptied myself.
But I didn’t die. And I’ve rarely peed alone since, which is a cliche because it’s true.
Last night I danced braless and barefoot to King of The Road while blowing on a too-hot portion of toddler meatballs, with Frida shrieking and bopping along in her booster seat. This morning, she used a step stool to climb up to the fruit bowl, pick out an apple, and eat it unassisted with her tiny hands and tiny teeth. This, of course, is both entirely unremarkable and an absolute miracle.