Watching Her Walk

Jan 11, 2021

I watched her walk down the hall toward her bedroom, her right heel falling short of the hardwood floor, each step jostling her little frame to the left in an exaggerated sway, the next step shooting her spine straight and vertical, and then falling to the sway again as the pattern of her gait repeated. She disappeared through the door. I’d asked her to go change her clothes, wondering if she would or not. She often protested, leaving me to wonder if she might be looking for my help just to get a few extra moments with mom.

I turned back to the mirror to finish curling my hair while listening to the morning news. The nation’s capital building had been breached a few days before, and I couldn’t help but search for encouraging words, a glimmer of hope, a ray of light. My uncertainties about almost everything had escalated, and now given all the rumors about bad things happening, even my phone seemed like a sudden stranger, and a new mystery. I felt the energy of a struggling hope begin to wane. Then, out of the corner of my eye I saw that she had returned.

She was there, standing still and waiting for me to turn and inspect her ensemble. I did, noting the much-improved coordination of colors between her chartreuse t-shirt and a more muted collage of greens on her leggings. She waited for my smile of approval, which I gladly offered, and then she nodded downward toward her new shoes, a pair of black suede Ugg ankle boots. They were on the wrong feet. I’d told her yesterday that the zipper goes on the inside, but she hadn’t quite caught on. Or maybe she had, and was only making things work. She’s good at making things work.

“Oh … you’ve put them on the wrong feet. Remember? The zipper goes on the inside,” I said, keeping a smile. “Do you want to go switch them?”

She nodded, and swayed away to take care of her task. As she turned her back, I noticed that her pants hadn’t been pulled all the way up on the left side, exposing her bright white underwear. Still, it wasn’t terrible … better all the time. She’d made steady strides most of her life, and progress had been slow. Yet, I always welled up with pride whenever she put her t-shirt on by herself.

I ran up behind her and adjusted her pants, patted her on the shoulder, and asked her to come back when she was done switching her boots. Putting the finishing touches on my hair, I realized how long I’d gone without a proper cut. Thankfully, I’m highly skilled at plastering wildly curly and fine locks of hair into place using my magical hairspray. She returned a minute later, having made quick work of the boot switch, and stood at attention. She raised her hand to her forehead as if reporting for duty, awaiting my return salute before standing at ease. No idea where she picked that up. I noticed the pattern on her pants; it was like a flowery camouflage, so the military greeting seemed to fit … in a hippy kind of way.

These are the things that make me wonder what she thinks about … what she understands … her opinions about life, me, her daddy, and her sister. I also wonder how she completes puzzles without spreading the pieces out on the floor. It’s really weird. She takes one piece at a time out of the box, placing it exactly where it goes. The only way she could possibly do this is to first know what she’s looking for. I think she sees more than most.

Last night at the dinner table something happened between her and her father. I don’t know what it was, but it triggered a wailing of tears that lasted almost 30 minutes. He pushes her sometimes, and she pushes back, causing him some kind of frustration foreign to me. It’s not as if I don’t have my own frustrations, but they’re different when it comes to her. If only she could talk. Anyway, he ascribes to the philosophy that children should eat the dinner that’s put in front of them. And I don’t blame him after spending an hour making stuffed Portobello mushrooms. But to her, the entree makes no difference. She ascribes to the idea that she will make the decision. They were getting nowhere.

I eventually spoke up, giving her some options, none of which she was interested in. She continued with her operatic wailings. I was about to give up when I put my forehead to hers and said, “Come with me,” thinking she would not, but as I took a step toward the living room, she got up from her dining chair and followed me out of the room.

She’s fifteen years old and stands at 4’8”. With her following close behind, I sat down in the largest club chair in the living room, and as I did, she fluidly put herself on my lap, pulled her knees in close to her chest and put her arms around my neck. At 90 pounds, she’s a handful, but in her heart and spirit, she is still my tiny girl. The wailing went on as I rocked her back and forth, shushing her softly and coaching her to breathe. It took longer than I expected, but she finally grew weary and her emotional tirade ended in an exhausted state of quiet.

To see whether she was done, I pretended to belch. She giggled, and was ready to return to the dinner table. The food was tepid now, but she was still interested, asking me to cut her mushroom into small bites.

The past year has been difficult, yet … maybe not so much. I consider how things might have been if I hadn’t retired early. The logistics around her care, therapies, and homeschooling would have been impossible to manage. Or, if we hadn’t downsized almost six years ago. The debt we carried then would have been too much to manage now.

Or, if we hadn’t said “yes” to adopting a tiny baby born missing nearly half her brain. Without her beautiful smile, daily outbursts of joy, humor, and songs of love, not to mention her dance moves, my mental health would have collapsed into depression and hopelessness many months ago.

If I’d pursued the life script I’d written for myself rather than unawares follow the breadcrumbs God had placed in the right places at the right time, I would be standing outside the eye of today’s storm, getting my ass kicked. That doesn’t mean I’m not getting my ass kicked now. It just means that I am offered His peace in His shelter while it’s happening. Minute by minute.

I often forget this, and when I do, I sense a light tap on my shoulder, a tap that reminds me of the first time I watched her walk toward me. She was five. A few months earlier we had almost lost her to complications of skull reconstruction surgery. I can’t imagine coming back from that. God was merciful then. And He is merciful now.

I, like many, am desperate for Him to intervene and sweep away the virus and the division, but again, He knows the best timing for everything.

God is faithful … regardless of how dire the circumstances become.

Faith, Hope, and Love. And the greatest of these is Love.

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