[Guest post, by Kate Taney Billingsley]
From the moment he could put two steps together, it seemed he could sprint two hundred yards in thirty seconds flat.
People always commented to my partner and I on how excellent his balance was. I didn’t know any better. I figured this was just another example of compliments people give to new parents, one that went with remarks on his red hair, his cleverness or his sweet disposition.
As his mother, I just stood in awe at the fact that this sturdy human being (who was only inside my body less than two years ago) could find the muscular strength to stand, let alone run. Everything he does from chewing cucumbers to puzzle-solving is a miracle to me. But, as more and more people notice his speed, I too, am observing that holy smokes, he really is the fastest kid his age in the park.
I was in the hospital leading up to his premature birth due to a rare case of vasa previa. Essentially, the blood vessels from his umbilical cord were laying neatly over my cervix, which meant that we needed to be within five minutes of an OR to save both our lives. The contractions would have caused him to lose oxygen within minutes and drown in the severed bloodstream. I too, could have suffered complications from blood loss and in fact, did. I lost two liters of blood, needed a blood transfusion and nearly saw the light. My partner’s eyes became dense soil I rooted myself in on the operating table as my spirit seemed to magnetize out of my body to some other-worldly place.
All this to say, when we were in the hospital for the month prior to his birth during the height of Covid, the nurses would come in several times a day for routine tests. Twice a day, they would monitor his heartbeat. But, every single time, they had trouble finding it. And it was because he was moving around so much; which was no surprise to me as both of his father and I are Movement teachers. He got the nickname “wild one” in the perinatal unit.
Every time they couldn’t find his heartbeat, I would lose a heartbeat. Even at my first OB/GYN appointment, the nurse searched for fifteen minutes to try to find his heartbeat. I literally have fifteen minutes of video that document the anxiety-inducing moments of trying to confirm there was a living soul within me.
In some ways, I have grown accustomed to my son’s uncanny ability to move quickly. I even gave him the middle name of Falcon, the fastest animal on earth, not because he was a mover, but in honor of my father, a birder, who always said, if he could be any bird, it would be a Peregrine Falcon. I didn’t put together that my son might just be the fastest toddler on earth (or at least this side of Hudson Heights, NY).
He runs heart first, smiling widely, mouth agape. This means when he falls, he nearly falls on his face every time. His knees are consistently marked with scratches and bruises, and yes, his head has taken a few hits. Once, into an iron gate and another time, into the pavement itself. (The sound of his head hitting the pavement is a sound I wish no parent would hear, but that I know many have and many will for years to come).
The last time he hit his head, I was filled with a deep sadness. Not only because my baby was hurt (he got back up and started running almost immediately as I cried beneath my sunglasses running after him) but also because I realized I was given a child who had an innate explorer-like spirit; a wildness so pure that as his mother it would be my job to cultivate experiences in order to allow his wildness to remain intact. It would be my job to nurture his rich, adventure-seeking nature. It would also mean I would have to grow comfortable with my child taking risks and one day, leaving; maybe even running to the other side of the world to fulfill his destiny.
And yet, perhaps quite humanly, this completely selfish thought consumes me. The thought that one day he will leave. One day, he will go to pre-k, then elementary school, middle school, high school, college, and then maybe if he’s lucky enough he’ll meet a partner and make a life with them. Everyone tells me, “it goes so fast!” It goes so fast. He goes so fast. Life goes so fast. I want to be cool. What I mean is, I want to let him go one day and feel happy he is free doing what makes him most happy. We are only as happy as our unhappiest child and so I wish him great happiness. But, what if that happiness means being a race car driver or battlefield journalist, or a mountain climber in the Alps? Could I truly let go then? Could I ever truly be “cool”?
One of the most miraculous experiences about giving birth is that suddenly a literal piece of your body is taken very suddenly from you and carried away. In our case, he was carried away almost immediately after a kiss on the cheek to the NICU. It wasn’t until fifteen hours later that I was allowed to go see him due to my own health concerns. By two AM I was crying and demanding to see him no matter my state. The experience of being separated from him was torturous and unnatural. In the wee hours of the morning, I was wheeled over to a little plastic box and saw this fleshy five pound part of my body hooked up to tubes, and machines, and wires. He looked like an experiment from a sci-fi movie; an adorable experiment, but an experiment no less. And it wasn’t for another two days that I could even hold him. And when I did, it felt like that piece of my body that was taken from me, was given back to me. I wept tears with a love so enormous it terrified me. I never wanted to be apart from him again. And perhaps all this has to do with my fears of letting him go, in fact, I know it does. Trauma like that stays in the body and mind.
My personal battle, as his mother, for now at least, is not only learning how to dissect and heal that trauma, but also learning how to give over to his wildness. I want to be the wind on his back and in his red hair from now until eternity. No matter where he is running to or whom he is running from, or even better, as he runs, presently, for no reason at all other than that he must.
My son is a runner and he is mine to love and raise, but he is not mine to keep. And this mantra flows in my mind on the regular as I watch my Falcon find his wings: let him run, let him fall, let him fly and be free.
Ana, a mom to three rambunctious little boys, has supported hundreds of thousands of women throughout their pregnancy and motherhood journey since 2012 as a blogger and maternal health advocate at MommysBundle.com.