I give her the little toothbrush as I pick up my own. She diligently tries to copy my motions, and I squat down to show her how I scrub at my teeth. Her concentration burns deeply into what she does, the chubby baby fingers grasping and re-angling the brush. She hands it to me, and allows me to scrub her bright white front teeth for a few seconds, before snatching the toothbrush back.
She places one foot high above a step, lowers it with extreme carefulness, and boosts herself up. She repeats with each step. She won’t allow herself to go up on hands and knees. If she finds a step that is too high, or if she tries to go back down the way she came, she soundlessly reaches out for my hand, knowing that it will be there to steady her, to lift her, to stop her fall if need be.
At first she didn’t understand why I was holding her hand. A new walker, with nowhere to go but back and forth within the room, what was the point of holding on? Now she lets me take her hand and walk with her, but only for a few moments. And then she must break free, she must run. She pauses to look back at me, and I give her chase. She shrieks, she runs, and then she stops and faces me. I am “allowed” to catch up, to tickle, to proclaim “gotcha!”
She runs toward the lake with me fast at her heels. Her arms outstretched, flung open wide as she stops just short of hurtling herself over the sea wall. She opens her mouth as if to swallow the breeze. Her stance means to embrace the whole of the scene before her. I stand just behind her, her shadow, her sidekick, her ever watchful companion. Without taking her eyes off of the water that is her newfound love, she sinks down into the grass, feet stretched out in front of her. I sit next to her, put my arm around her, tell her in so many words, “yes the water is wonderful, yes the lake is good, yes it is peaceful and beautiful and sweet here, and I will always be here, with you, right here in this place.”
I think of all the things I’ve done in my life, the awards and accomplishments, graduations and jobs, travels and victories. Then I became a mom, and my greatest accomplishment was a five-hour block of sleep, a day without a tantrum, a whole meal devoured. Am I even doing this right? Does anything I try even matter? Have I made her better, or somehow worse? Could another family have done things more thoughtfully, more completely? Have I done this being justice by being her mom?
I watch her run, toothy grin from ear to ear, peels of laughter streaked across the warm spring grass. At night she leans in and offers me a tight-lipped kiss, preceded by the sound “mmmmmm”. Then she curls up with her back to me, feet propped up on my legs, drifting off to sleep.
A happy girl.
My greatest achievement: this happy girl.