“Anklets. She would place her foot firmly. For she would love the sound they would make with each of her steps.” We were told.
I didn’t know if she would like it. I knew I would!
They were ‘fancy’ to some folks. ‘Traditional’, to others. ‘Beautiful’ to me. And it was plain ‘utilitarian’ to the missus. For it was a rough equivalent of a sophisticated GPS system. It always announced which part of the home the little feet were prancing about in. Often causing our minds to whirr and think of possible objects there that the little hands that came with the little feet, could be exploring.
Today, the little feet are exploring a stack of paper in a corner. She turns around and looks at me. Her year old legs reveal their age with the stutter of the unsure step. Each with the jingle of the anklet. Usually, she lets out an incoherent shout of joy, blissfully oblivious of the next lurking danger. Like a bowl of water, the edge of the cupboard or the end of the bed! Unmindful, she usually stutters on. With obvious results.
Today is no different. She is soon atop the stack. It’s not a tall stack. But it perhaps is a Edmund Hillary moment for her. Her shouts of joy punctuate the air. This time around too, I stay a good distance away.
Her mother’s heart beat almost shakes up the building with every one of the little stutter in the step. Growing louder, as the stutter of the small feet reaches very close to the end of the stack. One more step and she would fall. Not a plunge across the Grand Canyon. But a small fall. Similar falls are part of her routine.
Her mother lurches forward to hold her, anticipating the fall and all the crying later. I lunge and catch hold of her mother’s hand stopping her midway. We are a few feet away from happy feet. Her mother squirms in my grip. Reserving the choicest of ‘are you a nutcase’ look. I hold firm. I hiss ‘Quiet’.
I stay calm. On the exterior. With the countenance of a sage who has been in meditation since the time dinosaurs roamed the planet. Grey butterflies adorn my stomach lining. In hordes.
“Will she fall?” An inner voice asks me.
“I don’t know”, I answer. Inside me.
“Then let go of her mother, who atleast will hold her in case she falls”. My inner voice tells me.
“I can’t”. I answer. In a fledgling moment.
“Why?” The voice persists.
“The stuttering feet have to learn. She will”. I tell myself. “She will learn what causes a fall. Perhaps how to fall. Or perhaps how not to. Even better, she will gradually learn about her options, choices and consequences. In any case we are at hand to pick her up and let her know that its ok to fall”!
The inner voice stays quiet with the rapid fire conversation within me. A conversation that lasts not more than a second.
Nano seconds appear like hours today. The sounds the anklet produce, reach a spot where one more step will mean a slip and a fall. The hundred butterflies have morphed into two hundred and make their way all the way up my alimentary canal.
I notice that the speed of her mother heart beats could get Usain Bolt’s heart cowering in the bushes. I still continue to hold her mother. Firmly.
The stuttering feet take the next step. Almost. She changes her mind at the last minute. And turns around. To find her father holding her mother’s hand, and her mother struggling to jump out of his grip and both of them ready to jump.
The clinks of the anklet stop for a minute. A look mixed with bemused curiosity loads up on her face. It could have asked, ‘you idiots thought I was going to fall, didn’t you’? Her usual arrays of celebratory sounds are released perhaps at the sight of an unexpected audience to an event that didn’t happen.
The cutest of smiles escape her perky lips and she stutters off in a different direction. The seeming search for new objects, shapes and spaces to explore, exposing an intact confidence announced by the pronounced anklet.
Her mother frees herself from my grip. ‘She could have fallen’. She says calmly.
“Could have”. I say. And smile.
“But she will learn. Awareness. Choice. Freedom to choose. Doesn’t come easily. But will eventually come.”
Her mother looks at me. “Look, you can continue to be Gautama Buddha. Or whoever. I am just going to be a simple mother to my daughter”.
It takes a while for the heart beat to slow down.
She smiles. I smile.
We both know each other too well.
To stay distant enough to give space for her to exercise choice and face the consequences head on, yet staying close enough to pick her up incase she falls. It’s a thin amorphous line there.
I realise, that’s going to be a lifelong quest. Today we have shiny anklets made of silver. In the days ahead, the time that we spend with her should help her do the job: Place her feet firmly!
This post first appeared at www.parentous.com