Even though Autumn is almost two years old, I’m still getting used to everything that comes with being a mom. There are mom’s nights out and parenting discussion groups. On Instagram, I follow thegentlemamma and transformingtoddlerhood, and at the playground, I engage other parents in conversation. Usually it’s casual – fruit snacks or animal crackers? Huggies or Pampers? – but one time, something different came up. A fellow mom and I were pushing our daughters on the swings, when she said:
“My daughter always wants to be picked up, but I can’t lift her any more.”
Her toddler was three, still young enough to be held and, at the time, I shrugged it off, sad for her, and grateful for a dedicated yoga practice that kept my arms strong. But life happens, and soon enough, instead of sporting workout pants and packing a gym bag, I began wearing sweatpants and toting a diaper bag.
So the other day, when Autumn felt heavier, I worried. Surely the small layer of extra skin hanging below my arms wasn’t to blame. It must be exhaustion. After all, I’m still adjusting to being a full-time working mom. But then, a few days later, my dad said:
“Autumn is feeling heavier lately. I have to shift her weight more often to carry her.”
And my fear was confirmed. The combination of Autumn getting bigger and me getting weaker could result in the day when Autumn peers up at me, hands raised, and I’ll have to tell her:
“I’m sorry. I can’t. You’re just too heavy.”
And you wouldn’t think that’s such a big deal. But I remember what my mom told me her pediatrician said when I was little:
“Babyhood is this long,” she says holding two fingers an inch apart,”and G-d willing the rest of their life is this long,” spreading her arms wide. “Let them enjoy being babies.”
So I zone in on the length of time we’re alive that it’s socially acceptable and physically reasonable to be picked up. I’ve seen five – maybe six – year olds sleeping on shoulders while being carried to the car after a night game or festival. And even though I’m small, and even though I’m older, I want that for Autumn. I want her to feel enveloped in the cocoon of safety for as long as possible, because once that’s gone – that feeling of another holding you weightless, absorbing all your worry, anxiety, and fear – it’s hard, maybe even impossible, to get back.
I think about how even if I were a bodybuilder, there would still come a day when it’d be cumbersome for me, at 5’1”, to pick up a little girl. Then I apply what I teach my 4th graders about figurative language to my own life, considering both literal and non-literal language. Even if I can’t always lift her, I can always be there to pick her up when she’s down. Even if I can’t always carry her, I will forever hold her in my heart, just as I do daily.
After work, we walk to the park. I am a sherpa, hauling Autumn and her entourage of stuffed animals and Wubba-Nubs, while Tod pulls on his leash. I am Supermom, emerging from a burning building with as much as I could save. On the days Autumn wants to walk, she shouts double orders once we arrive:
“Up!” And then, “Run!”
And I do both. Huffing and puffing, feeling as though the extra 27-pounds were around my waist instead of in my arms. I slow down for a beat, and she’s not happy.
“Run! Run!” she commands.
If I say no, she’ll be fine, but I will not, and so I imagine I’m a horse being whipped, with no other choice but to move forward. I understand wanting to go faster, because for a good part of life, that’s all we want. Until all we want is to slow down.
The field is wide open, our dog already a distant speck, and she desperately wants to catch up. Someday she will. Her legs will get stronger and faster, and she’ll be far ahead. I’ll follow behind, keeping a close eye, but giving her space, feeling lucky if she stops, waits, and says to me then what she sometimes says now:
And I’ll oblige, because that’s something I will always be able to hold.
But for now, if you happen to drive by the park, and see a woman panting, speeding up, halting, then mushing onward, don’t fear she’s dying. It’s just me running with all my heart.