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The Red Circle

Updated: Jul 12

I took Autumn to her first gym class today. I may not have signed up had I known it was a trap.


It was great, for a while.


She was climbing, giggling, bouncing, and, as usual, being totally adorable.


Then it was time for the test.


“Put your kids in the red circle and observe how they play by themselves,” they said.


By themselves? You mean without me? Umm...okay...


I watched Autumn weigh her options: A bunch of green and blue balls and two baby strangers...or Mommy! Cue every movie scene where the soldier returns home from war, his woman wondering whether he will emerge from the crowd. And then he does.


Only it was Autumn, crawling around the perimeter of the circle as fast as her mini legs could scurry, embracing my ankles as though she hadn’t seen them in years.


I wanted to pick her up and cheer. Yes! Woohoo! My baby girl needs me!


But I’m pretty sure that wasn't the point of the activity, so I played along.


“Okay, Sweetie. Go back in the circle and play,” I said, gently encouraging, but secretly hoping she would again return to me.


This time, however, she stayed in the red circle, playing…independently.


And she was the only one. I watched as the other moms chased their babies, failing the test quickly and happily, indulging in the jumper, trampoline, and ball pit. And there was my daughter. The last woman in the ring, the champ.


She looked around, held a ball out to another mom, seeking a friend, a teacher, but not her mother. And when no one responded, she crawled over to the slide, as though I wasn’t even there.


She aced it. My baby passed. With flying colors.


And so did I.


As I sit here typing this, eyes puffy, cheeks drenched, I know deep down that we’re supposed to help them move steadily toward a life of their own.


But it’s too soon.


She’s still in diapers, sucking on pacifiers, drinking mother’s milk.


I’m sure it’s much too soon.


Less than two years ago, she was a flashing light on a screen in the doctor’s office. Months later, that light transformed into her thumping heart inside my chest, singing to me.


I’m here. I’m getting ready. I’m coming, Mommy.


What magic to have a heart that wasn’t my own beating inside my body. What gratitude I felt that she was so strong. What a privilege to have this gift.


But with all the awe and wonder of the pregnancy came nausea and vomiting, paralyzing depression, and painful progesterone injections.


And then she was born. She screamed. She ate. She slept.


And I wondered, What have I done?


I wish I could pinpoint the specific moment when it hit me; how much I love this tiny human and how much I want with all my heart for her to be always happy, always healthy, always thriving.


The red circle wasn’t meant to keep the babies in; it was meant to keep the parents out.


I watched my daughter, her pudgy cheeks, smooshy thighs, squishy arms. She is too soft, I thought. And the world is too hard.


And all I wanted to do was form an invincible shield to insulate her from all of it. All the hate, violence, and prejudice.


That little heart, I thought. That little heart that once beat inside mine. The one I kept safely snuggled, tucked in tight, cuddled under. It’s out there now--in the open--vulnerable, exposed, unprotected.


I wanted to shout at the gym class sadists. I wanted to run into that circle with a blanket and envelope her in the warmest, safest hug, then run for the doors at top speed.


But instead, I stayed outside that damn red circle.


That class was terrible, cruel, merciless. It was supposed to be for beginners, but already we were in the deep end.


Only I have this painful feeling it was the right class, at the right level, at the right time.


And we’ll go back. Week after week. And it may get harder, but we’ll keep going. And I’ll keep crying, but also feeling enormous pride in my daughter’s growth, because the lesson at the gym, any gym, is that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.


And because this is what I signed up for.


Love. Tears. Laughter. All of it. Bring it on.


I’m going to get my money’s worth.


“Wings and roots. Wings and roots,” my own mom tells me.


Wings and roots.


Mommy On.



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