Step by step

Step by step. One in front of the next.

Two feet, cocked at a 45-degree angle, one on top of each other, each struggling to move forward, unsure of how the predicament started.

Two arms, pointed straight out like a scarecrow, balancing and reaching and holding steady against the weightless mass of air, grasping for order, searching for safe haven, wobbling in fear of a sudden landing.

Two eyes, staring ahead, gauging the next movements, locking in on a target. Two hands waving in excitement. Two knees about to give out.

Up and down. The life of a baby taking its first steps toward toddlerdom looks like a rollercoaster. Up and down. Up and down. Stand and fall. Lunge and release. Each unsure step bleeds into another, until two steps become three, become five, become an across the room journey from one parent to the other. Up she goes, grabbing a finger to steady herself, sticking her arms straight out for balance, untangling her feet and locking in on a destination.

Estimated time of arrival: just seconds. Estimated time of future milestones: seemingly too quick to fathom.

Sierra has taken to tottering back and forth between Kerrie and me, the two people she knows best, bridging the gap from her knees to her feet better than her shins ever have. Each step builds confidence. Builds a childhood. Builds an unspeakable bond with life, with wherever she wants go to, whenever she figures out what that is.

For now, it’s a simple series of movements. A pull up. A steady. A turn and a step and another step and then a whole pattern of steps. Slower than crawling, for now, but no one said a new experience would be met with out-of-the-gate speed.

It’s something else, too. It’s more than movement. It’s a future. Each step now leads to another, and soon each step will lead to independence. Her first steps have come and passed. But what about her first steps outside? Her first movie. Her first walk through the woods, through a zoo, through a pile of leaves, through wet grass and through the sand on a beach.

Her first steps into grade school. Middle school. High school. Her first steps behind the driver’s seat. Behind her first crush. Through the doors of college. Down the side of the auditorium to grab a diploma, an award, down the church aisle at her wedding, down the hospital hallway in the maternity ward.

Her first steps as a mother. As a grandmother. As a great grandmother. As whatever life decides to make her, from our baby to someone else’s, from our life’s greatest enjoyment to someone else’s best friend.

Each step, each stumble, each move from one state of mind to the next, each comes with a new experience, and each experience comes with the realization that, eventually, we won’t be there to see each step. With distance and circumstance tearing us apart. When phone calls are all that keep us together and vacations are spent catching up on the life we were once so much a part of.

The first steps are a moment that I’ll never forget. And I say this knowing full well that her first steps will lead to so much more.

That her first steps have given her the freedom to move wherever she wants, both physically and emotionally, in both the literal and metaphorical.

That now she’s moving toward a basket of toys. But, eventually, with a wave, with a reluctant letting go of my finger, with a look to her past and a nod toward what she’s grown up with, she will turn, take a few steps, and enter the world on her own.

To experience the up and down for herself. On her own two feet. Step by step. One in front of the next.

This was lovingly handwritten on July 8th, 2008