It started about a month ago. Oscar had been getting really into the “put-and-get” game—getting the dog’s bone away from Xena, putting the dog’s bone in the toy box, putting his sippy cup in the grocery bag, getting everything off the coffee table. Put-and-get. On this particular occasion, he had gotten a remote control and was putting it various places: on the floor, in the toy box, in the dog bed. And then, he put it on the step. It made a satisfying clack-thwack sound, so he put it harder, up on the second step. This added a pleasing bit of ricochet to the sound, so he put it again, and again, and before either of us knew it, he had climbed up four steps and proceeded to climb up to the first landing.
Since then, it’s become a bit of a ritual exercise for him. At first, it was strictly part of the put-and-get game, but then it became just about the climb itself. Two Sundays, he climbed the entire staircase about a dozen times over the course of the day. That Monday, Damon stayed home with Oscar and noticed that his climbing technique was changing—he’s no longer pausing with both feet on each step. Instead, his lower leg is leapfrogging straight up to the next step in one fluid motion. It’s a sight to behold.
Oscar is so proud of himself every time he gets to the top of the stairs, each time faster than the previous; he just grins and laughs maniacally as he does his victory lap around the upstairs rooms, crawling at break-neck speeds. Ha! I see his confidence growing, his willpower and concentration redoubling. He’s started standing up on his own, without holding on to anything. He will be walking any day now, at which point my heart will break due to this weird cocktail of pride and wistfulness that he’ll be a toddler—not a baby anymore.
It’s so hard to keep up. He’s so gung-ho about practicing, getting stronger, repeating, getting faster, that play time now consists largely him darting about and me constantly orbiting, staying out of his way but being close in case he falls, to either catch him or kiss his bumps.
It’s a weird place to live, after spending so long with him content to be in my arms. He still wants me close, wants to be held if I’m cooking or cleaning or working on something so he can see what I see. He still reaches out to me if he’s hurt or sleepy, to cuddle and receive comfort. But he’s hungry for experience. He doesn’t want me to be too close for too long. A moment, a sweet moment, and then he’s off, arching toward the floor, reaching for a toy, lunging toward the cat.
He pushes himself up one more step. I breathe. I stay a couple steps below, not touching him but with hands outstretched, ready should he need me. Sometimes he looks back over his shoulder to see if I’m there, and I say, “Yes, I’m here. I’ve got you.” Reassured, he climbs another step, and another, and another.
When he reaches for me, I pull him close, breathe in the scent of his hair, whisper-sing to him our little songs. My heart aches with swelling, with still being “home base.” Then I let him go again.
And I guess that’s where I live right now: arms open to embrace, arms open to release. Arms open.