Footsteps On The Stairs

Janell Burley Hofmann, September 07, 2015

Recently, my oldest son said to me, “Mom, did you know I can tell who is awake by the sound of their footsteps on the stairs?” I smiled deep, both at his attention to this and its symbol of familiarity. What a lovely thing to know about your siblings. So true, that if I didn’t hold in the center of my chest for a while, I could miss the significance. Those light or pounding or fast or dragging steps are changing though. Once, I would have had to meet them at the top of the stairs and hold their hand as we walked our way down together, one careful step at a time, to greet the day. And before that I would listen for them to call from their bed or crib needing assistance up and out and down. But I don’t carry anymore. I don’t cut grapes either. Or take damp cloths across faces. I don’t guide them as they put one leg into pants and then the other. Now, I feel only the ghost of their tiny, chubby hands resting on my shoulder, steadying.

I don’t know how it happens exactly. Fully present in the everyday, watching as shoe sizes change and hair grows longer and bodies stretch and teeth are lost and come again, but time still sneaks up and bites. I thought by the simple and gracious act of noticing, I would have the power to slow it down. But somehow, it keeps going faster. Most days I don’t mind that diaper changing and sleepless nights are behind me. Though it’s certain I’ll never know the beautiful heaviness of a baby against my chest like I once did, I’m happy that our increasing stamina lends itself to spontaneous adventure or days of self directed lounging. I have to keep a vigilant calendar as everyone begins to build a life outside of our house. I have to buy more groceries than I ever thought possible as each day a loaf of bread and all the fixings vanish into seven packed lunches. There are so many opinions, on so many topics, I often waiver between authoritarian ruler and peaceful surrender. It is and always has been a great challenge. I am always learning.

As a new school year starts, I find myself, like I do every September, with a heightened level of awareness. Because before it even happens, it is already underway – beginnings into holidays, winter into final exams. The months tumble into each other in a series of checkpoints that make up a childhood. Last night, I kayaked along my favorite creek and watched how the sunset had changed since last month. Instead of a steady summer descent, it was like a shade slammed shut, a shouting declaration of nighttime. As I said my ritualized goodbye to the season, I wondered how we will be when the summer sun is over us again? How will we have learned and reached and grown? Will I be in tune enough to see the changes and will I even remember it as it is right now? I listen to the squeals of my children in the distance as they swim and jump and play, the rhythms of their bodies know too that this is summer’s finale. I paddle towards their voices, wishing for many more years of knowing the sounds of their youth so intimately. My daughters run to me and I let them push up against me, wet and shivering, knowing now that the imprint they leave is permanent. Perhaps, these invisible marks of love and care are the only way to soften the truth that someday, this too will be only an echo, like tiny footsteps on the stairs.

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