Sunday, February 7, 2010

Our Littlest Athlete

I'm in Vancouver this weekend, where signs of the impending Olympics are everywhere. Most of these signs reflecct the staggering security budget: helicopters buzz overhead and rigid-hull inflatables zip along the waters in Coal Harbour. As well, we're all supposed to be "practicing"for traffic challenges, and although the last several weeks haven't changed commuting habits as much as planners had hoped, the more persuasive lane closures, detours, and no-stopping areas --and the resultant traffic snarls -- may yet coax folks out of their cars and into buses and SkyTrains.

More celebratory changes are noticeable as well. The most obvious to us would have to be the bank of searchlights installed at the waterfront just a block below us. About eight lights on this side of False Creek and another eight across the water meet in the skies above to sweep patterns in the clouds. Our apartment faces away from these, but I wonder what the nuisance factor is for those who live with the searchlights in their livingrooms. Still, walking back across the Burrard bridge last night, I had to admit they lend something of a party atmosphere to an already beautiful part of the city.

And soon the party will begin. Athletes are already here, scattered about the city and even over on Vancouver Island, working out in whatever facilities they've arranged, and the spectators and journalists are beginning to arrive as well.

But for our family, the most important athletics happened Friday evening, and centred around a milestone event for one little girl:

After a pyrogy dinner (best price ever $11 for a huge plate of pyrogies, cabbage rolls, and Ukrainian sausages) at the local Catholic church hall, run by the Ukrainian Ladies, we went back to our daughter and SIL's place nearby. Bronwen had suffered some office politics all week, so we picked up a couple of bottles of Masi Compofiorin to help commiserate. Nola, who had chowed down a surprising stack of pyrogies, was changed into her pjs and was motoring around on hands and knees enjoying her audience. Persuaded to show us a few steps as a new walker, she quickly noted that we clapped for her. She liked that. She got up and took a few more steps. We clapped again. She liked that even more.

Then, for at least ten minutes, the girl could not be stopped! Either pushing herself up to a wide-legged stance and staggering towards a likely target, or getting someone to help her balance before launching, she would then move right across the room at close to running speed. Each foray took ten to fifteen steps, and most of them featured an increasingly precarious gait. In fact, we would have been more worried if we weren't so busy applauding with each finish.

And is this girl ready for the podium?! Oh yes! Not only was she a glutton for our applause, but she began clapping for herself as well. Never having taken more than five or six steps consecutively before Friday, she made crossing after crossing, grinning broadly, flashing her gorgeously gap-toothed smile, each time finishing by clapping happily for herself, barely balanced on wobbly legs.

And her dad said something wonderful: "I wish she'd always do that." I think when he said it, he originally meant just that it was such fun to watch that he hoped she'd keep up the clapping after walking. But it seemed to change in the saying, change to a wish that his daughter might always be pleased with her accomplishments. Of course, while it became a richer wish in that bigger hope, it also became tinged by the parental knowledge that Nola would certainly suffer the same self-doubts as the rest of us, that there would be times that the world might knock her down. But it also made of that cheering room a little world in which she could learn to cheer herself on among folks who love her.

As I said, that was our Olympic moment, right then, right there.

Funny. I've raised four children into wonderful adults, watched all four take their first steps, and I've tucked away some precious moments from each little one's life. Before that my parents and Pater's raised our many siblings, and their parents before that. None of us could ever find those steps old-hat, though. They're thrilling no matter how many times we've seen them happen, no matter that all the billions of walking humans on this earth have already taken them, even no matter that they will start a little person walking into challenges we'd love to protect them from forever. Indeed, given the challenges that accompany those first steps, I'd say it's no wonder we want to look to athletes for an illusion that control and discipline and ambition can help us go Higher, Faster, and Stronger. As if that might be enough. . .


  1. Oh, mater, you are making me cry. That she then began to clap for herself. I suppose that's how it happens. We internalize the reactions of those we love best. And those chubby things carrying her across the floor.

  2. What a lovely safe and secure place she had to show off her new found athletics! This hearkens me back to our family years ago when a similar scenario was acted out...we are so blessed to have the opportunities to share these milestones with the ones we love.
    This post is like a warm embrace, thank you for sharing it.

  3. Her pleasure and pride, her family's support and delight in her growth- what a solid foundation for Nola as she continues to leap into life. Beautiful! Nothing stopping her now. And as I always suspected, a nosh of carbs encourages performance.

  4. Oh you had me crying too, and smiling as I remember the joy my little grandson Owen takes when we cheer him on and encourage him. How quickly this time will pass. Little Nola is a lucky girl to be surrounded by such love and encouragement.

  5. And aren't we all lucky that we've each had a chance to witness these special moments in a wee one's life.
    Duchesse: clever you to have spotted that link. Pyrogies=performance, yes indeed!

  6. reading this post reminds me that we have all each had our moments, as nola was having hers on friday .. and, yes, the wish is that we all continue to have those moments, throughout our lives, "among folks who love" us .. lovely .. thanks for sharing that moment ..

  7. I love this post, it really took me back to when both Daisy and Kitty were starting to walk. Those moments are so precious and suprisingly stll very vivid. I am still having to pinch myself that Daisy will have left home by the end of this year. Tears of joy quickly turn to sadness don't they?

  8. Hi Jane, Glad to see you commenting here! Yes, I've been trying to think of ways that I can tap into the spirit I saw in Nola -- how can I recognize the folks who love me standing round, and how can I clap to celebrate my own moments . . .
    Alison: It's stunning, really, how quickly those moments pass -- I have an especially clear memory of my now 31-year old daughter managing to walk with tin-can stilts when she was just barely two. And now I place the memory of Nola clapping for herself against that, almost 30 years between the memories -- way to crunch time. The magical part is that while the joy can turn to sadness, the sadness can often turn to joy almost as quickly.


I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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