“Table for three, please,” my father told the hostess.
“Three and a half,” his girlfriend corrected, nodding toward the infant car seat I was carrying. As we made our way to the table I counted the number of people seated in the restaurant; how many diners would my baby annoy with his squawking? This was my son’s first time out to dinner – he’d sat outside on cafe patios and the like, but we’d never been to an indoor, sit-down, no-escape restaurant. In the end, Alexander didn’t make a peep. OK, maybe two peeps, but nothing that couldn’t be hushed with some rocking back and forth and a pacifier. As we left the restaurant, I let out a tightly held breath. With that one experience out of the way, I could feel my confidence rise. My son could do this. I could do this. After six weeks of near isolation with my newborn, we were both ready to take a few steps further out into the world.
Dinner on Main Street was just the start: The whole weekend was one of firsts. Alexander made the long drive from Colorado. He survived gas station diaper changes, middle-of-nowhere rest stop walks and backseat breast-feedings. Yes, I’d packed bottles for a more efficient meal, but forgot that Dad warms bottles up. The look of horror Alexander gave me indicated another first: first brain freeze! Once in Moab, Alexander and I spent our first night without Dad, who had to come out a day later. Turns out seven-and-a-half hours of sleep in the car results in what can best be described as infant jet-lag. Luckily my father’s girlfriend came to the rescue with a cup of coffee and an extra set of hands at six in the morning. Just like the drive and the dinner, we survived. These things all added to the sense that my life was returning to normal – with the addition of one tagalong who needs routine diaper changes and often wants to be nowhere but in my arms. There was one more thing, though, which I had not yet returned to.
Until this point, my own recovery and the winter weather had confined my son and me to the neighborhood. My first walk with Alexander had been a grand total of two-and-a-half blocks and required a long spell on the couch afterwards. Still, I’d been improving day by day. I was stronger and had more stamina. Alexander instantly fell asleep when strapped to my chest in the snugglie, so if he was fussy the two of us would go for a walk. Since that first attempt, we’d ventured beyond the neighborhood park, even going so far as to do a loop on a nearby creekside trail. But for two months, I hadn’t truly gone for a hike. On my first visit to Moab since his birth, I was determined to change that.
The first attempt saw me hike a mile into the trail before turning around. As I huffed and puffed up the steep sandstone hill with Alex I conceded that walking on the flat sidewalk or around our house as I did chores did not present the same cardiovascular challenge as this did. When we reached the car, I was sweaty and out of breath. At the same time I was buoyed by the fact that my son hadn’t fussed and I hadn’t stumbled or given up. We could go hiking, and we would. The next day we went closer to two miles. On day three, I made it two-and-a-half before heading back. The same sense of achievement I had felt at the restaurant was even stronger on the trail. Each instance showed me that I am still myself: The things that I love to do are still accessible to me. Better yet, I’m able to share them with my son.
Sitting politely in restaurants and surviving long car drives are things that my son will have to do throughout his life; being outdoors will be his to enjoy. I hope he learns to appreciate the good weather and the bad, the steep climbs and steady descents, the quiet moments and the playful ones. Years from now when he goes hiking, biking, camping – whatever it is he wants to do outdoors – I hope he smiles at the thought that he first did this when he was just six weeks old. In the meantime, I will keep taking baby steps back to myself, and on to the new person that I will be with Alexander.
Suzanne Klein is from Boulder, Colorado, and has been exploring the Moab desert for more than a decade.
Years from now when he goes hiking, biking, camping – whatever it is he wants to do outdoors – I hope he smiles at the thought that he first did this when he was just six weeks old.