My son and I have the same shoes. Matching clothes was something I swore I’d never do with a baby — but then again, there are lots of things I swore I’d never do, like marry a Buddhist, get acupuncture and have a child who I’d raise in one of the biggest cities in the United States.
Our son, Arlo, is 7 months old and he is the cutest baby in the universe. Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to write that. I meant that at 7 months, he is now the cutest baby in the universe.
Whoops. I can’t control myself. Let me try that one more time. At 7 months, he’s smiling, laughing, babbling and loving life. And just yesterday, I squeezed my husband’s arm and watched breathless as our son crawled for the first time toward his favorite little wooden teether. (Yes, he has wooden toys — what did you expect? I’m a West Coast hippie now!)
It felt like my whole world changed in that one little jerky movement. We caught a video of the moment, and if you listen carefully, you can hear my heart swell with pride as it also breaks in half. Because I knew that soon, he wouldn’t need us as much.
Soon he would be a little more of his own person and a little less of ours. Soon there would be no more matching shoes.
He’s changing so much and so quickly that recently my husband, Jason, caught me sobbing over pictures that were taken only a month ago. Through my tears I kept mumbling, “He was just so little.”
It’s tough to see my baby grow, but what makes it extra hard is how far we live from both our families. Jason and I both grew up surrounded by cousins and grandparents. Arlo is not that lucky — neither of us have family in Los Angeles.
When Arlo was born, my mom announced that she would not go more than six weeks without seeing him, and God bless her if she hasn’t done it. But when things are changing so fast, six weeks can feel like six months.
All the little milestones are tinged with a sense of loss that our parents live too far away to witness each one. Maybe I’m thinking about this so much because one of my grandparents, my Grandpa Hopwood, died seven years ago last week. I wear his wedding ring on a chain around my neck, and my relationship with him was one of the most important of my life.
When I was about 3 years old, he used to make me drink coffee with him. When I complained about the taste, he’d pour more and more sugar in my cup until the coffee was grainy and light brown. As I choked it down, he would nod approvingly and say, “It’s good for you.”
Because of that experience, I couldn’t stomach coffee until I was about 25. But also because of that experience (and many others), I loved my grandpa more than anything. He treated me like I was a tough, mini adult. He taught me nursery rhymes and Longfellow poems and how to appreciate maple nut ice cream.
We named our son after him. Arlo’s middle name is my grandfather’s first name. I can’t wait for the day Arlo asks about it and I can tell him what an amazing man his great-grandpa was.
That’s the kind of relationship I want Arlo to have with his grandparents. He can, of course, but it will take a bit more work. It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that I’m responsible for the distance between them, that I’m choosing to live so far away from both our families. It can feel selfish and, on the hardest days, it can feel pointless.
On those days, I remind myself that I’m here for a reason — for a career I love, for a dream I had, for a life I imagined building. And my son will know that about his mom, that she took a chance on herself. That someday he can take a chance on himself, too.
Arlo might not live down the road from his grandparents, but he will grow up watching me prioritize a relationship with them. He will know that they are special — that they love him even if they can’t be there for every little moment. And when he gets older, I will tell him the story of how his grandparents supported me when I moved halfway across the country — putting miles and miles between us — knowing that this exact thing might happen, but letting me go anyway because that’s what parents do.
They break their hearts so you can be happy. They watch you crawl away from them and cheer you on as you do.
Jessica Runck, who grew up in Wimbledon, N.D., and graduated from Concordia College, is a writer living in Los Angeles. Visit www.jessicarunck.com for more information.