Ingrid has been cautious, always. A year ago, while other kids her age—newer to walking than she was—careened around, drawn to pointy corners and sharp edges, Ingrid took one slow step at a time. While other toddlers charged through the sand at the playground, Ingrid, intimidated by the uneven surface, sat still and examined the sand. She’s still nothing like a daredevil; she hesitates, even at physical tasks I know she can do, and asks for help, and I remind her again and again to try on her own.
In the past month, though, she’s accumulated a record number of injuries.
First came a goose egg earned from the corner of a dining table at a suburban Red Lobster during Great Grandma’s birthday dinner. Then a scrape on the top of her big toe from tripping as she “ran laps” on the concrete path in our backyard. The same scrape, re-opened in an identical fall a day later, required a band-aid—something so new and alarming for Ingrid that A ended up wearing a band-aid on his own uninjured big toe for an evening to reassure her. And, most impressively, last weekend, a fat lip—with some blood, even—from banging her face on the edge of the bathroom counter when her step stool tipped over.
Last summer I know I’d have been alarmed by all the bumps and bruises she’d have gotten had she been more physically adventuresome. I am inclined to anxiety, especially when it comes to my darling’s unblemished flesh. But now, somehow, the main thing I feel about this is a strange sort of pride. She is starting to push herself physically, figure out on her own what she can do without getting hurt, and I love watching that.
Several weeks ago we ate dinner out with A’s mom and siblings at a lively restaurant. Near our table was a wide and fairly steep stone stairway. As the meal wound down, Ingrid started looking for fun outside the bounds of our table and found the stairs. For a good 15 minutes, she worked on climbing them—far from the railing, one step at a time, up and down. First she went up two steps and back to the bottom. Then up three and back down. And on like that.
Everyone else at the table—most loudly, my mother in law—sucked in their breath as they watched. The table hummed with variations on This is not going to end well. My brother in law, a rock climber and whitewater kayaker, perched on the edge of the chair closest to the stairway, ready to leap up and catch Ingrid if needed. My mother in law and sister in law huddled together, on occasion screening their view of Ingrid with their hands. A even said to me under his breath, Do you think this is ok?
And what I said was Yes. It did look scary. I can’t say that my heart wasn’t beating a little fast, and I can’t tell you I couldn’t feel the blood rushing through my veins just like in any other situation where physical harm to my daughter seems possible. But Ingrid was being, at the same time, characteristically methodical and newly brave, and I wanted to let her do that. It seemed very unlikely that she would fall. I was almost certain that if she did fall, she would not die from her injuries. I was even pretty sure that she wouldn’t even need stiches.
I was riled up enough by the whole mothering-as-spectator-sport scene (the horrified glances went from Ingrid to me to Ingrid. Isn’t she going to do something?) that I could not be articulate or graceful about explaining to the gawking in-laws that this was a good thing, a really good thing, and that by letting her do this I was not neglecting her, I was being a good mom, a really good mom. So I just sat there, fuming about the judgment implied by their horror, and also proud as could be of the little girl on the stairs learning what she could do.
And she didn’t fall. She kept going up and down, arms out, adding one step up on each attempt, until she reached the landing eight steps up, then walked back down, grinning, unsupported.
On Saturday after Ingrid got the fat lip in the bathroom, I held her while she cried, and blotted at her lip with toilet paper, and then we went back downstairs to rejoin A and a few friends barbecuing in the backyard. Ingrid peered out the dining room window and called out to them in her most chipper little voice: I bonked myself right here, pointing to her lip, still oozing a little blood. I cried and cried!
It feels great that we are both learning at the same time that she can push herself physically, that she can get a little bump or bruise and end up ok.