I carry my daughter, Zoey, carefully across a patch of snow-covered concrete. Because it is icy underneath my shoes, my steps are slow and measured.
“Will we get there in time?” Zoey asks, her face buried in my shoulder to shield it from the frigid air that surrounds us.
Our tickets for the Degas exhibit at the art museum are tucked safely in my pocket, stamped with a 10:30 entry time. I shift Zoey to my other hip and flick my wrist to check my watch. We have 15 minutes to spare.
“Don’t worry,” I assure her. “The museum’s right here. I promise we won’t miss a thing.”
* * *
I set her down once we are safe inside. The moment her toes touch the floor, she takes off twirling toward the check-in counter, her sparkly tutu swirling around her. We are handed special stickers to wear for the exhibit, and Zoey proudly presses it against her chest. She takes my hand, and together we find the line, waiting patiently for the doors to open.
When they do, Zoey pulls me forward, eager to begin our self-guided tour.
She delights in the artwork, pausing at each piece the way only a true art aficionado would. As I stop to look at a bronze sculpture of a horse, Zoey walks ahead to study the next set of paintings.
Moments later, I round the corner, my eyes scanning the room until I find her.
With quiet reverence, Zoey studies a painting of delicate dancers. They are peeking out from behind a curtain, dressed in taffeta and tights, preparing for a performance. I make my way toward her and then stop a few feet away, my gaze moving from Zoey to the painting, smiling at the symmetry created between art and real life.
A docent comes over and stands next to her.
“Hi, there,” he says, pointing in the direction of her feet, to the two reasons I carried her into the museum in the first place.
“Careful out there today with those ballet slippers of yours there. All that snow and ice is sure to make you slip, or at the very least, dirty them up quite a bit.”
“It’s okay,” Zoey smiles, “My mommy carried me.”
“Aren’t you too big to be carried?” he laughs. “And don’t you have boots?”
Inside, I feel a twinge of self-doubt flicker at my heart’s edge, wondering if I should have insisted she walked. I think of the boots laying haphazardly on the floor of the backseat, the ones I decided to leave behind in an effort to lessen my load.
“They’re in the car,” Zoey replies as her smile falls a bit. “And I don’t think I’m too big. Mommy says I’m just right.”
“That’s right, peanut. You are,” I say, my voice startling her a bit. She comes over and wraps her arm around my leg.
“And besides,” she tells man who is still listening to her but now looking at me. “One day, I’ll return the gesture. One day, I’ll carry her.”
I tilt my head down fast, tears instantly smarting my eyes. There, on the floor below me, lies my heart in a puddle on the ground, pooling around my feet. I hear him start laughing quietly again—an unspoken chide that she is a silly little girl to think that one day she would be strong enough to carry her mother.
Oh, this sweet girl of mine, I think. How do I tell her she already does?
* * *
Afterward, I carry Zoey back to the car, holding her more tightly than before. I open the backseat door, pushing it open wide with my free hip so I can set her in her booster seat.
Zoey leans in toward me, tilting her face sideways, kissing the air beside one of my cheeks and then the next, in proper ballerina fashion.
“Thank you,” she whispers once she’s finished.
“For what?” I ask.
“For today,” she says. “For taking me to see the dancers. For letting me wear my ballet slippers. And for carrying me, even though that man thought it was silly.”
As she speaks, out of the corner of my eye, on the floor beside her, I see her boots, right where we left them. Suddenly, I feel that self-doubt the man’s comment created simply slip away. I know I made the right choice when I chose to carry her instead.
“I’d carry you even if your legs were so gangly your toes dragged on the ground,” I tell her. “Or if your arms were so long they wrapped around my neck not once, but twice. I’d carry you even if you weighed as much as a hundred ballerinas.”
Zoey’s laughter fills the space around us, and then she says it again:
“But really, Mommy,” Zoey insists as she wraps her arms around me. “One day, I really will carry you.”
There it is, the opening I wished for her earlier. My opportunity perches precariously in the space between us.
* * *
As mothers, we carry our children at first inside our hearts, then inside our bodies, and then inside our arms. We happily bear their weight, holding on to them for dear life, silently begging them to stay little for as long as possible.
Yet in spite of all our wishing and wanting and hoping for time to freeze them in that perfectly small shape, they grow into these tiny little humans—ones who sometimes—blissfully—still gift us fleeting reminders of the babies they once were: Like when their eyes catch the light a certain way, and we remember the first time they opened them. Or when we pick them up after they’ve fallen asleep on the couch and gently lay them in their beds, and we recall placing them in their cribs, as quiet as possible, so as not to wake them from their fragile slumber. Or when they laugh a certain way, and we are transported to the first time their effervescent joy bubbled out into the world, the way it made our hearts go lopsided.
But then, there they are, resting on your hip, wearing a pair of ballet shoes that are starting to look a little too tight, telling you the art exhibit you just attended was ‘simply delightful.’ They’re sitting in front of you, blowing kisses like a graceful Parisian, pulling you in for a hug, making promises of a lifetime of compassion and love.
And you’ll find that in this brief moment, where you’ve traded spaces and your head is on their shoulder for once, you’re left speechless again, realizing that you really don’t need to say a thing.
You don’t need to, because they already know. It is a truth they’ve carried with them from their first breath—that their love sustains you, that their life changed yours, that the weight of their existence will never be too much for you to bear.
So instead of saying anything, you simply breathe in that sweet baby scent that’s never quite left the crook of their neck. In the silence that remains, all you will hear is the slow, steady beat of your heart, the one whose rhythm and song has been so different since they arrived.
It’s you, your heart says the first time you hold them. It’s you. It’s you. It’s you.
You do, your heart says when they say they will one day carry you. You do. You do. You do.
And then, as you listen just a little closer, you will hear their heart, too—low at first, and then all at once loud—saying the exact same thing as yours:
Corey is a writer, graphic designer, and mom to her amazing daughter, Zoey. Here at The Nostalgia Diaries, her goal is to simplify, enhance, and engage people’s lives by helping them focus on the most important things: remembering, appreciating, believing, and becoming. It’s all about celebrating the past to create better days today.
At The Nostalgia Diaries, our goal is to help you simplify, enhance, and engage your lives by focusing on the most important things: remembering, appreciating, believing, and becoming. It’s all about celebrating the past to create better days today.