The Triumphant Toddler: Rainey (Finally) Walks

My twin brother Ben was always winning trophies when we were younger. Wrestling trophies. Little League trophies. Basketball trophies. Trophies, trophies, trophies.

Okay, so I might have been a little jealous, but don’t get me wrong, I was his biggest fan. I remember watching his fourth-grade wrestling matches from the bleachers with my dad and yelling for him to “hook the leg!” even though I had no idea what it meant and feared it might land him in the ER.

In junior high, after beating out all the other Bob Uecker wannabes, I sat on top of the snack bar roof at Washies Playground and announced his Little League games. When Ben stepped to the plate, I always managed to exaggerate his name over the coveted PA system just a little more than those of his teammates.

A few years later I painted my face half orange and half purple, our high school’s colors, with his number, 33, on each cheek for all his basketball games. Face paint, when applied at least twice a week for three hours at a time, can do a number of its own on adolescent skin. There was no end to my devotion.

But the more weighed down his bedroom shelves became with golden statues of achievement, the more I waddled around feeling sorry for myself about my lack thereof. So my mom spent a good deal of our childhood concocting creative ways to make me feel as praiseworthy as my trophy-clad twin.

For instance, when I was ten and brought home a copper-colored kitten from the SPCA, she suggested I name her “Trophy.” And whenever I failed to place at one of my swim meets or track races, she would greet me with a warm towel or cool drink and say, “Way to go, honey! You finished first in your lane!”

But I really struck gold the day she brought home the “Best Daughter in the World” trophy. It stood at least three feet tall, and although it was just a used tennis trophy from Bill’s Sport Shop with the racket ripped out of the girl’s hand, I proudly displayed it on the shelf in my bedroom.

I thought about this last weekend while playing at the park with Rainey, when all the other kids her age were walking across the mulch while she seemed perfectly content to crawl. Old feelings of incompetence started wreaking the slightest bit of havoc on my self-esteem, and I tried telling myself (and another mother who had the nerve to ask why she wasn’t walking yet) that her hesitation was just a result of an extremely cautious personality. But despite lifting her head, rolling over, sitting up, and crawling early, when it comes to reaching this mother of all milestones, Rainey has not inherited Ben’s talent for coming in first, even if she did take her first four steps a day after her first birthday.

In the two months since, Scott and I have encouraged her with claps and cheers. We’ve coaxed her with cookies. I even started dressing her in shorts more often so the concrete skinning her knees might motivate her to stand up and strut her stuff. Her solution? Walk like an ape on all fours, sticking her butt up in the air apparently as a gesture for me to pucker up and kiss it.

So: there I sat watching my daughter monkey around the jungle gym at the park, trying to figure out this child who, even after fourteen months, is still such a head-scratching mystery to me. But the more I try learning about Rainey, the more she teaches me about myself, and so I looked back on the days of my youth and saw a young girl knocked off the winner’s podium not for a lack of trying or support but by a penchant for perfection.

And then my heart inflated with compassion as I watched Rainey cruise along the outskirts of the playground equipment with her hands gripped to the metal bars and her eyes fixed on her feet as she took each step with painstaking precision.

That day I decided to ease up on her. I stopped forcing her to foot it and continued to offer my fingers (and shins and nose and hair) for balance. I also gave her what I daily need to give myself: the time, grace, and freedom to risk the embarrassment and pain of falling and failing.

And wouldn’t you know it, just the other day, she did it. She walked the entire length of our front sidewalk, turned to look at me, and started clapping for herself. She didn’t win any trophies for it, and if she’s anything like her mother, she may not win many in her future, but that’s okay. Someday I plan on giving her the one for being the best daughter in the world.


  1. Awesome

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