On The Stairs

Insights on mindfulness and compassion inspired by a toddler and a tube of chapstick.

Emily PG Erickson

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Grayscale stairs, going up.
Photo by Robin Schreiner on Unsplash

I looked up at my toddler, who stood at the top of the hard, honey stairs. His dimpled hands balled up at his sides. One clenched a yellow cap. The other held a matching tube. A breath later, I smelled mint.

“One, two, three, come with me,” I beckoned. “Let’s go.”

He swayed, then stomped his feet. He pushed the chapstick’s cap and tube together. Like two opposing magnets, they failed to meet.

“It’s time to come,” I told him.

He moved the yellow pieces some more. Plunged a finger into the scented wax and pressed it to his soft cheek. Smiled. Pushed the cap and cylinder toward each other again. Another miss. He swayed happily.

“We’ve got to go,” I said, stepping down.

He pointed up at the window on the landing. And then the scene flicked. I had one of those moments of clarity where you’re yourself and watching yourself at the same time.

I saw our impasse.

Me: Time traveling to the next task. Breakfast dishes. Dinner prep. The call I had to make. The invoice I had to send. Responsibilities that existed without shape or heft but whose swirling weight pulled me all the same.

Him: Here. Present to the smell of mint. To the tentative warmth of the March sun through the window. To the thrill of being high up. To the pleasure of seeing your mom is right there to catch you.

Why would you rush past all that? Of course you wouldn’t.

In that moment, looking at the two of us, I felt a swell of affection for my son. How dear his impossibly smooth cheeks! How pure his heart!

That morning in the bathroom mirror, I had discovered another sunspot near my nose. Now I saw myself: Not young anymore but not wise either. The picture of a fool — clumsily perched on uneven steps, body angled away from the gifts in front of her, turning toward all the wrong things.

My faults, I thought as I stood on the maple stairs, are so trite. I worry a lot. My brain thinks the same dumb thoughts over and over. Even after 36 years on this planet and 16 years of…

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Emily PG Erickson

Former mental health researcher sharing insights about psychology and parenting. www.emilypgerickson.com