My dearest Sam,
You walked the other night. You took your first steps. At least your first determined, sustained steps.
Oh, you had tottered a stride or two previously, from Jack to Ellie, and I had watched that over and over on shaky video. But I had not seen it in person, and you had not, up until the other night, truly walked.
But your mom was away, at meetings for the school and the rec committee, and you and Jack and Ellie and Scott and Robbie and the dog, Jimmy, and I were in the living room after dinner watching some bit of children’s TV, probably “Little Einsteins.”
It is a big week, another frigid week in what has been a frigid winter, and we have focused in recent days on the impending visit of your biggest brother. Lee is coming from Utah, the grand champion of the family, the mythological brother from afar, is coming home for a few days, to delight your siblings and to satisfy the thirst for place.
And to introduce us to a girl, an extraordinary woman, who, by the time you read this, will be beloved family or forgotten friend. He is bringing her home to show her the place and the people and to introduce her, I suspect, to the totality of who he is. To know me, many would say, you must know the place that produced me. And with eagerness and anxiety we wait to meet her, to meet the new him who she produces, to see the new them they together become.
But your mother was away and the TV was on and I sat at the left end of the couch, leaning against the arm, while you stood at my knee, your left arm resting on it and your right arm holding the cushion.
Then you just walked.
Not for any apparent reason, or to any particular destination, but you let go and strode off and, heading directly away from the couch, you took one, two, three, four, five, six and seven steps out into the middle of the floor. As you did so there was a gathering focus in the room upon you. Jack and Ellie and Robbie and Scott and I all noticed, at first unconsciously and then startlingly and finally with collectively held breath.
We have a big plastic ball that you got for Christmas. Mostly Jack uses it to practice jump shots into a laundry hamper, Robbie and Scott bounce it off your head until I yell at them, and sometimes you crawl across the floor, pushing it either with your head or your hand, laughing uncontrollably as you do.
You walked seven steps to that ball and bent over at the waist to grasp it and fell backwards onto your well-diapered behind.
Which is when the rest of us started cheering and clapping. Looking up in obvious delight yourself, you stood up, pretty confidently, and walked 90 degrees from your original course to the other couch.
There was more clapping and cheering, and you fairly quickly set out again, retracing the line you had just walked, to the middle of the room and across the other half of the room and into the dining room, alongside the long table, and stopped only when you came to the gate that blocks you from mischief in the kitchen.
We all whooped and cheered and clapped, and you did the same, clapping robustly, throwing your head back with your toothy smile, completely exultant and joyful.
You liked the taste of accomplishment, and may it ever be thus. May the joy of achievement always draw you onward and upward.
And may you, through these words, always remember that night. I know that, through these words, I will.
I thank you for that.
Because, though you are the ninth and presumably last of my children, you are the first, as best I can recall, whose first steps I have personally witnessed. My job is to provide, and the days are long, as they are for so many parents. I have heard the happy retelling many times, and I have seen the sturdy recreations.
But you were the first whose steps were at my side and in my view, and I will never forget you walking away from me on your bold little adventure.
May that spirit ever propel you.
May you never fear to take steps of progress, and when you totter and fall on those awkward expeditions, may you quickly rise and press on better.
Given that you are a child of my old age, I may not be around when you bring your girl home, when you fly back from life’s walk for a taste of place and past. I have witnessed your first steps, but I may not see the steps of adulthood and mature direction. I may not see where your journey takes you.
But I will be part of that journey.
And I will be clapping and cheering.
With my love,