This morning Annie and I met a former Rome student for brunch in the city. It was wonderful catching up with her, she studied in Rome when Annie was only 18 months, so we haven’t seen her in a while. On our drive home I began to reminisce about our time abroad and what it was like rearing our baby and toddler there. Which reminded me of this post, one of my favorites. It’s funny how what feels like forever ago really wasn’t that long ago.
We recently returned from a five day get-away in Paris. While roaming the incredibly charming sidewalks, taking in the stupendous sites, and gazing at famous works of art; I couldn’t help but have to stop to catch my breath. Have you ever felt so completely overwhelmed that you can’t breathe? Usually when this happens to me, it is in times of great sadness; during my hold-nothing-back sobs where there just isn’t room for air. Like when my grandmother passed away, I just couldn’t catch my breath. Or when the three doctors and that nurse walked in to the hospital room with grim faces the morning after Annie was born to deliver the news of her diagnosis. It was as if all the air had been sucked from the room.
In Paris it was different. I was overwhelmed to the point of breathlessness in the completely opposite way. As we walked along the Seine, with the towers of Notre Dame in view, I had to stop to adjust my coat. As I looked up my new view included the Seine, Notre Dame, and Michael pushing Annie in her little blue stroller. Tears welled in my eyes, and I felt more lucky and at peace in this moment than I ever have.
Annie’s little blue stroller. The stroller we purchased just a little over a year ago before our ten day trip to Tunisia. After trying to haul Annie’s enormous (“spaceship” as her dad calls it) stroller onto buses and trains and squeezing it through crowded alleys, we decided we needed the smallest, lightest-weight stroller available. Annie’s first stroller “system” cost almost 450 euro. (And we never use it!) We forked over 59.90 euro for our little blue one.
The stroller is just over a year used. But you would never guess it. It looks like it’s been handed down for years, like the little bums of several little tykes before her have left their imprint. The wheels are worn, the light blue turning a pukish-gray, stains from gelato and spilled milk and Polish Zurek soup. From Tunisian cous cous and and Baklawa. From a hot chocolate from London, and juice from a fresh Sicilian blood orange. Sometimes as I clean off the crumbs from the crackers she loves to snack on, it’s as if I can feel the sand from the Sahara or from the shores of Ischia that once occupied the crevices of the seat.
I have a love/hate relationship with this little blue stroller. I love that I can lift it onto a bus with Annie strapped in and my enormous diaper bag hanging from the back all by myself. I hate that the wheels often get stuck making turns impossible. I love how easy it is to close and open and the tiny space it takes up. I hate that it shows every stain and ounce of dirt. I LOVE all the memories we’ve made with it. I HATE it for the guilt that consumes me for having Annie in it for too long, especially during our trips away. I LOVE it because every time we take it to explore a new city, I am reminded of all the places Annie’s experienced. I HATE it because I CAN’T go without it. Annie is still not standing on her own, which makes it impossible to put her down. This little blue stroller is essential if we are going to leave the house. I use it everyday. Rain or shine, this little blue stroller is always there, a constant in our lives. And for this, I both love it and hate it.
I can’t sugar coat it. I get sad. There are days when we’re strolling with our little blue contraption and we run into a group of children playing in the park and I get choked up wishing I could undo her buckle and watch as she runs towards all that fun. In Paris we were taking some photos in a beautiful piazza and a mother was sitting on a bench as her two children (one at least five months younger than Annie) were running and chasing each other around the fountain. My heart broke a little bit.
Which brings me to my back. It’s not easy having an almost two-year-old who can’t walk, let alone stand on her own. If we’re out of the house, she’s either in the stroller or my arms. She can’t be in the stroller for long periods without getting cranky, like any kid. And so my nights are filled with icepacks and pleas for back rubs from my husband. My back is a bit broken too.
I could sit back and say, “Enough, it’s too much, we need to slow down.” But then I catch a glimpse of our tiny folded up stroller in the corner. And we’re off.
Annie may still be extremely dependent on her little “Blue,” for now anyway. She may not be able to run around fountains, or get on a tricycle, or climb the steps to the slide. Or walk hand-in-hand with another toddler her age. She may not be able to stand as she feeds the ducks with her dad.
BUT, oh the places and things she has seen in her little blue stroller.
In a few weeks my little girl will turn 2. The time has flown. It doesn’t feel that long ago that I was in a hospital bed with her tiny body in my lap, and I couldn’t breath because I was filled with so much worry that her diagnosis would make her life harder, sadder. Everyday since her birth has been better than the last. Her life amazes me more each day. We know she’ll walk one day and that she won’t always be so dependent on wheels. But for now, we can’t wait to see where that little blue stroller takes us next!
About two months ago, our lives changed a bit. I no longer have to trudge a stroller everywhere we go. We still use one of course, but our girl isn’t so dependent on it. She walks with me around the block, through parks and grocery stores. I can set her down on her own two feet while I load or unload the car. Life has become a bit easier. My back doesn’t hurt quite as badly at night. Annie can get to where she wants without depending on so much help. We are so, so happy. We’ve been waiting for this and working towards this during countless therapy sessions for a long, long time. Anxious to see her gain an important part of her independence. But today, as I was driving home, I was a little sad. She’s growing up. she’s becoming more and more dependent everyday. More often than not she is walking away from me instead of towards me. When Annie was only a week old someone trying to comfort me said, “You’re so lucky, her having Down Syndrome means she’ll never leave you. My daughters left me long ago and now they have their own lives. Your Annie will never leave you.” Of course, we want her to have the life she wants and I am almost certain she will want a life of her own and will indeed one day leave us. We are working to ensure she has the opportunities to make a life of her own, a way to contribute to society that she enjoys, and the option to live independently. I know that day is a long way away. But today, I can’t help but miss that little blue stroller.