by Simon Hodgson
It’s month eleven and Sam’s nearly walking. He’s been nearly walking for some time now, in the same way that I’ve nearly had a job for some time now. His friend Lewis is walking. No, that’s not true. Lewis is running. Lewis is hurdling. Lewis is sprinting a mile a minute through rough terrain. But Sam, bless him, is still crawling, still hauling himself up on chairs and sofas and little girls’ curly hair, then looking around with the look on his face that says—What’s next? And though we congratulate Lewis for his athleticism and the Gatorade ads that will surely be his two decades from now, we love Sam regardless. We do.
On Monday, my wife, Fitzsimmons, told me he walked. This is big. This is universe-expanding-big. Not since Neil Armstrong played lunar hopscotch has so much attention been focused on one footfall.
“Sam took a step,” said Fitzsimmons.
“Well, he moved his foot, then fell over.”
“Oh,” I said.
That sounded like drunkenness to me, but I didn’t press the issue. When you believe in Equally Shared Parenting, authors Marc and Amy Vashon suggest, it’s better to let your partner do things their way. Breastfeeding with a snifter of Vermouth isn’t the traditional way, but anything to get results. If she says he walked, then he walked.
Or did he? On Wednesday, I got home from job-hunting in the library and Fitzsimmons said, “He walked for the first time.”
“Ah,” I said. “The first time.”
“Yes,” she said. “I might have been a little hopeful before.”
“Yeah. Although this time, there was a definite step.”
Before the boy went to bed, we put him through his paces. Fitzsimmons bought him a walker from IKEA last week, and though the very feel of that store’s free pencils brings out hives in me, I have to admit that this walker is not bad. It works and it looks okay, which is what you look for at $25 a throw, 50 bucks less than the fancy models. Sam stood holding the handlebar and looking hopeful. Neil Armstrong’s ghost sat on my shoulder, watching. “Come on, Sam,” he whispered. “If ole Buzz Aldrin can dance on national TV, you can walk.”
“Okay, Sam,” said Fitzsimmons. “Ready, steady.”
He took a step forward with the walker, lunged forward on his knees, then crumpled forward in what an 11-month-old might take for Dame Margot Fonteyn’s Dying Swan. It was late, 7 o’clock, and he was due for bed.
“It’s all right, Sam. We’ll have another go tomorrow.”
When Fitzsimmons left for work on Friday morning, I was feeding Sam fancy St. Benoit yogurt with prune grock from a jar.
“Bye, Sam, bye,” she said, lingering. And then she leaned over and hugged him tightly, and I had to hold her hair out of the yogurt while he waved a dirty spoon dangerously near her black coat (the clean one).
It took me until half past one, when I had to leave my family for my work day, before I realized what she’d been thinking. Would Sam walk today? And would she be there to see it? Only when I was halfway out the door, wearing normal clothes (i.e. a sweater not pebble-dashed with puke), did I understand that strange emotional cocktail. Yes, I’m looking forward to going to the bathroom without an audience. But I’ll still be wondering what I’m missing on the footsteps front.
Not since 1969 was a first step as anticipated as this one, I thought as I sat in the library, looking at the Craigslist jobs section. I looked around me and wondered if everyone else in the library was also waiting for the update. The crazy lady taking up an entire table with a thousand of her closest receipts—“Would you mind sitting over there instead,” she said to a Japanese guy who was about to take one of the three free chairs. The homeless guy who wears a duvet inside his jacket and who falls asleep reading The American Century. I bet he’s got one eye on Apollo 11 and one on my text messages. Is Sam walking?
Given the intensity of this obsession, it’s hard to sort fact from fiction, particularly with Fitzsimmons as we continue on our adventures in co-parenting children.
Her whole family’s the same. When we visited them in the U.K. at Christmas, my mother-in-law was adamant that Sam had said his first word.
“He said ‘Dog,’ he did,” said Carol.
“I heard it too,” said Barry. You wouldn’t want these guys on your jury, that’s for sure.
Fitzsimmons, to her credit, was at least slightly skeptical.
“I did hear a ‘D,’” she said. Eventually though, she acquiesced, because she too wanted to believe it. And because they’re her parents.
Back home in San Francisco, I only have one Fitzsimmons to believe, and one’s enough. Since the sixth month, she’s been claiming the first step. He wasn’t even crawling then. Now he’s mobile, these allegations arrive once a week. Any kind of stagger is a step. A fall is a lunge. It’s as if our son already has his own PR department. What will be the latest press release?
Part of me is cheering my boy, wanting him to reach these milestones. The other part of me doesn’t want him there just yet, at least, not till I get home. Then again, I’m sure I’ll be told something interesting when I get through the door. After all, Neil Armstrong’s got nothing on our boy. One small step for Sam, one giant leap of faith for Fitzsimmons.
Simon Hodgson is a reader, writer, editor, and dad. Born in Scotland, he now lives in San Francisco with his wife and son.