I sit across the other side of the room to my husband. We take it in turns to hold out our arms and call her name in high-pitched voices, smiling, trying to entice her to take those few fragile steps in our direction. When she gathers the courage to begin, we speak soft encouraging words, anxious not to distract but keen to coax. When she falters half way, we edge imperceptibly forward, reluctant to interrupt the independence but instinctively protective. When she reaches the other side, we embrace and exclaim, clap and cuddle, tell her she is so clever and we are so proud. We smile at each other, over her head, he laughs gently at my happy tears. Her brothers, who have long since passed the stage of being applauded for such a feat, laugh and exclaim too: ‘look what Hannah did!’ They are proud of their big sister.
Hannah is seven. We played this scene (minus the little brothers) many years ago, when she was two, faltering yet fearless, walking between her parents across a room for the first time. Our celebrations then were happy, proud, excited, the celebrations of any parent watching their daughter take her first steps. But they don’t compare to the celebration of today.
In the past three days, Hannah has started to walk independently around the house. She has done this before, but not for several months, and not at all so far in the new house. The house that was needed and chosen specifically so that she would have the space and freedom to walk around. Seven weeks after we moved in, she’s finally moving too!
The celebration of this, the elation in seeing her make her own choice, decide where she wants to be and take herself there, of seeing how proud she is when she reaches the kitchen, where the bowl of pasta on the sideboard is finally within reach, it’s a little breathtaking.
I never expected to need to applaud and exclaim for my 7 year old walking independently between her parents across a room, but I suppose that’s exactly why it’s so thrilling: a tiny act I would, by now, have been taking for granted, yet am instead cherishing and appreciating and wanting to hold onto with every muscle I have.
As we smile at each other over her head (which, incidentally, is much harder now she’s 7 and tall!) I know we are sharing the same thought: how do we hold onto this? How do we make sure it doesn’t slip away, again. Neither of us know the answer, but we do know that we will keep on applauding and exclaiming, coaxing and cajoling, and leaving big bowls of pasta just ever so slightly out of reach . . .