My birthday was yesterday, and I turned 31 years old. Olive and I are in Invermere, BC, surrounded with the sweet chaotic crush of four of my five siblings, and their various significant others and spouses.
It was an amazing birthday, and I think 31 is going to be a fantastic, strong year. Especially if yesterday was any indication. I mean, I got to second base on my birthday – that’s got to count for something, right?
We went to Fairmont Hot Springs in the morning. It was so unbelievably blissful to sink into that hot water and feel everything white-knuckled in me just let go. It was exactly what I needed.
Olive was sort of unnerved by the situation at first, clinging to me for dear life like a little monkey. She has been in pools before but maybe the steam or the heat or the mountains looming above us were throwing her off. She was nervous and clutched at me, insisting I not allow her feet to touch the ground. She stayed that way, silent, observant, and grasping, for the first fifteen or twenty minutes, protesting any small shift in position or minute movement of my body.
Part of me wanted to push her out – go! explore! Don’t you see how cool this is?! I wanted her to enjoy herself and have fun, and not spend her time clinging to me for dear life. I wanted her to have adventures and play with her aunts, and I wanted to hear her infectious belly laugh, but I tried instead to just sit with her. I let her hold onto me, and I reassured her. I talked about what was happening around us. I encouraged her to take small steps on her own, but I held her close when she would refuse, saying “I can’t! No, I can’t!”
I kept her feet from touching the ground for as long as she was scared.
Then the talking began and she started narrating life around us, as one does.
“We in a pool! Outside! This guy wearing his bathing suit! And this lady wearing her bathing suit, too! This is trees, and this is mountains. This kid in his bathing suit and this kid in her bathing suit, and I in my bathing suit, too!”
As her usual non-stop chatter resumed, she gradually started exploring more and more, releasing her iron grip on me and taking her first tentative steps towards her aunts and Grandpa. She’d return back to me every so often, climbing back into my lap and excitedly telling me about her adventures.
Lately I have felt a lot like she did yesterday. I have felt terrified and scared, and unsure of my step. I have been clutching desperately to anything I can. Anything and anyone solid around me. Any comfort I can grasp. I have been doubting myself, doubting my ability to take those first few steps on my own.
I can’t! No! I can’t!
I often wish that I could take care of myself like I take care of her. Gently, with patience and understanding. Speaking kindly and with encouragement. Focusing on the positives, and always making sure she is eating well and sleeping enough.
She was scared, but she sat with it until it passed and she felt braver. We both trusted that she would. I often think that Olive has a lot to learn from me – particularly the virtues of clothing, and the limitations of the word “no” – but this is one of many areas where I am trying to absorb her approach to her feelings, and my reactions to them.
I see it mirrored so strongly in myself lately, that fear, and I am trying to begin to summon the same gentleness and understanding in response to it.
After discovering a shallower pool, playing puppy, and running back and forth between all of us, finally letting go and laughing, enjoying herself just like I had hoped she would, she walked back to me. Her step was steady and sure and she looked so strong, confident and happy. She came to sit in my lap and hugged me tight.
Then her hand strayed to my chest and she started patting me gently on the boob.
“I touching you boob, Mummy” she said in a throaty whisper. “I touching you boob in you bathing suit under the water.”
Boom. Second base. I’ve never felt luckier.
31, kids! Thirty-one.