It was a morning like any other, I’d forgotten to run the dishwasher, the hamper of socks that I kept meaning to get to sat unmatched, and I’d spilled my coffee several times.
“B, do you have your lunch box and your folder?” I called from the laundry room.
“Avery and Finley, are you dressed? You can’t be on the iPad before you’re dressed.”
“Yes, mom. I am,” Avery called.
“You’re dressed or you’re getting dressed?” Silence. “Ave, put down the iPad, get dressed and then come have breakfast, when you’re done then you can play.” I heard their muffled whispers and the shuffle of their feet as they returned the iPad to our room.
The clock read 7:19. “Two minutes, Bri.”
Running the iron over the sleeve of a blouse I watched out the window. The ice had been slowly melting, soon the walks to the bus stop would be crisp and sunny. I threw my shirt on and walked out to the living room. Sean and Briar were talking.
“You just look for the others and if they’re there you can stand. It’s just the being there alone we don’t want,” Sean explained. Briar nodded.
“Alone for what?”
“She’s going to walk.”
“Yes, I want to walk,” she said. I nodded and said, “Ok, we better move it.”
“No, mom, I meant walk alone. I want to walk by myself.” She smiled at me, her dangly, key-shaped earrings swishing. I looked at Sean and then back at Briar. The key earrings replaced the rubber ball danglies she wore the day before. She’d said, “Mom, look at this, every time they swing I just think, I came in like a wrecking baaaaall.” We had all laughed.
“Oh, ok. You, um, you want to just go? Now, today? Walk alone?” I asked.
“Yes, if that’s ok? I mean I don’t have to, but I’d like to,” she said with nervous excitement.
I was reeling. Yesterday when I’d walked to meet her, the bus was just pulling away. Her face broke into a huge grin and she ran to me, backpack larger-than-her torso swinging side-to-side. We walked hand-in-hand back to the house. I remember thinking how strange it was that I’d stopped panicking about being there before the bus arrived and that she’d just accepted that she’d start the walk alone if necessary.
“Ok,” I walked over to the front door quickly, checking to see if the other kids were outside. Sure enough, one boy was kicking rocks as he waited on his driveway, his sister was coming behind carrying her flute case. Just up the street another boy came down his driveway.
“Ok, B, they’re out there, go ahead.” She started down the stairs to the basement. “Hey, go this way, just go through the front door.” When Sean and I take her we go down to the basement for our coats. I felt a little numb as I watched her, she seemed slightly hesitant to go through the front door. “See, they’re all right out there.”
She scanned the street and then chirped an ‘ok’ as she slipped through the door. I ran into the other room and looked at Sean with my arms out at my sides. “What just happened?” He smiled at me, amused and proud. “She wanted to do it.”
I walked back to the door. I wondered where this had come from, how she had made what felt like such a huge leap without any foreshadowing. I pressed my nose against the frosty glass and wondered where my tears were. My heart was pounding and I could feel that normally they would be there, but they didn’t come. She stood beneath our towering trees looking tiny and huge at the same time.
Her steps were small and slow, she was barely moving.
I cracked the door, “B, get a move on or you’ll miss it.” She sped up and never looked back. I waited until all the kids had rounded the corner out of view. When the tears came it wasn’t for her having left me behind, it was for my not breaking from it. Somehow the time came for us to take a turn not holding hands and I didn’t realize it.
That’s a victory, right? Because sitting here right now it feels like the saddest thing in the world.