She walks. She walks with a walker, and she walks without. With the walker, she can go for a block or more. She plows forward, grinning, popping the tip of her tongue out of her mouth’s left side. She hurls her weight in one direction and yanks the walker to steer it. She bumps into walls with it, and squeals and grunts and thrusts herself sideways, maneuvering away from the wall and into the clear. She rounds corners. She traverses snow and ice and mud and grass. And she walks without the walker. She walks five, ten, fifteen steps by herself. Arms spread outward, left foot mysteriously pigeon-toed, she walks. She wavers every few steps, stalls, catches her balance, or doesn’t and falls backward onto her butt. But she’s falling less and less.
For weeks, she walked back and forth between a coffee table and an ottoman, just because. It was three steps. Three independent steps for which she had to let go of one sturdy object and risk making it to the next one. You could see the thrill in her face every time. It was like leaping, trusting that the net would appear.
But she got good at that. So she has started walking farther. From the ottoman to her highchair. From the highchair to an end table. Today, she walked from one wall of a large living room to the other. There was nothing in between. No table or chair to serve as her lily pad. Just gravity and ground, carpeted blue. She took off, walked four steps, teetered, walked three more, paused, walked a bunch more steps and another bunch more, and she never fell. She touched the opposite wall and squealed, delighted with herself. She turned around and walked back where she came from. Just because.
I don’t mean to glorify the bi-pedal life. I don’t mean to sound as though a non-walking life would be any less. But, well, she walks, and some thought she wouldn’t, and all knew she might not. As a friend and parent of a typically developing kid put it in an email:
Hooray for Fiona taking steps! B’s just starting to take some herself and that’s exciting enough without all those experts predicting she’d never do it.
If she walks, I used to say. I flash back to the first geneticist who gave us her diagnosis. We don’t know what her life will be like. It’s like receiving an information card for your kid, and on one side is a question mark, and on the other side, a picture of your raw, beating heart.
If she walks, and some kids with WHS walk, and maybe she’ll walk, and I don’t want to put pressure on her to walk because maybe she won’t walk and if she doesn’t walk, that’s okay too….
Whenever she walks across a room alone, my husband and I watch. Mid-conversation, we stop and watch. There she goes, arms out. She turns. She wobbles. She falls on her butt. Or she doesn’t. When she makes it from her start to her finish, we smile and look at each other and one of us says That is so cool, because it hasn’t gotten old, and it might never get old. But those words, That is so cool, pale in comparison to how it really feels, which we don’t know how to say, or don’t have time to figure out how to say, and even now, I don’t want to spend the time figuring out how to explain to you what this moment is really like, because I’m too eager to post this note so I can ensure that you will read this sentence: She walks.