December 27, 2022
On the way home from the Chinese lantern festival, only seconds after we’d exited through the paifang archway, it started to pour. We'd heard faint thunder minutes before but I'd thought it was a distant signal. Now, buckling you into the stroller, I knew we’d be soaked almost immediately and I worried you’d get upset. It was far past your bedtime as you slumped in the seat, weary and ready for “night nights.”
The original plan was to take you and your mom on a special date, capped by a nice summer night’s walk home as you dozed off, content from a rare outing with just your parents now that you’d become a big sister. This summer night unexpectedly turned mean, however. The rain did not drop from above and did not come on gradually; it charged southward on sixth and hit us head on, sheet after slanted sheet. We had about a mile till home and had to go on foot: we hadn’t brought the car, couldn’t do a ride-share without a car seat, and didn’t want to wait out the storm as it was already far too late.
I stood from my crouch beside your stroller and looked at your mom. Her eyes were waiting for mine, a tacit parental check-in. What do we do here? The rain was on us at that point, fully. I forget what was said, we didn’t deliberate for more than a few seconds. We decided to go for it and started running north up sixth. You were out front in the stroller, the little shade canopy down over your head doing next to nothing to keep you dry.
The sprint home was a swim upstream. My mood adjusted to fit a bummer ending. Our plan—involving logistics for a babysitter, getting the baby down on schedule, and pre-packed snacks—had almost panned out. But now it would end in tears and possibly fear: it was dark (your first time out well after sunset), you were getting pelted by rain, thunder detonated and the occasional lightning cracks were hostile. I knew the storm would give rise to one of your own, a reasonable and predictable reaction from a toddler exposed to the elements, tired, vulnerable.
I knew it.
I wanted to move faster to get you out of the storm, to protect you, and perhaps to subdue my own anxiety. But my legs were constricted, my clothing a wetsuit making it hard to run. Your mom ran valiantly alongside us and kept pace in her open-toed Tevas. We’d been running for a full minute or two, without a word, all focus on forward movement. I shouted:
“Montana, are you OK?”
I listened for you against the sounds of the storm and my heavy breathing. You seemed to be…giggling? In full stride, I pulled back the canopy of the stroller to check you weren’t crying. You were, in fact, cracking up. Arching your back and neck to look up at me, you smiled wide and extended your arms as airplane wings: to feel the rain and our velocity, to reach out for the edges of a new experience (rather than withdraw from it). You were having a blast.
What do I know?
Do I know you?
Because you are a piece of me? (Are you?)
Or am I getting to know you?
I know you in the sense that I know, with great clarity, that I love you, and that you feel closer to me than anything I’ve ever known that is not me. But I cannot yet claim to know you in an exhaustive or definitive way, I cannot lay claim to you as a piece of me. You continue to surprise me, you are a being of your own. I love you and the wonderful surprises you are continually becoming.
Happy fourth birthday, my girl.