I was that girl who would stumble, trip, then land on her face.
“I’m a klutz,” I would tell people, laughing, before I learned that it was not a good idea to label yourself because then people will laugh at you, not with you.
At a summer soirée in my 30s, I recklessly jumped into a hammock, only to have it flip over and land me flat on my butt. My dignity and other parts bruised, I then sat down on a sheet of ice that had been used to keep the lobsters that were being served fresh. I smelled of the ocean as I flirted my way through the party that night.
I was the embodiment of the absentminded professor, living more in my head than in my body—”flighty” was a word often used to describe the facile machinations of my mind, which leapt from subject to subject as gracefully as a high-wire acrobat might leap from one tightrope to the next, spinning around in midair as a new thought arrived.
The constant chatter in my brain (my teacher at my weekend course at the School of Practical Philosophy called it “monkey mind”) felt comfortable. I couldn’t stand to be without it, rushing out of yoga classes when I was told to quiet my mind and my mind wouldn’t cooperate.
After I met my husband, he became used to looking out for me so that I didn’t accidentally knock over someone’s plate of food with a wave of my arm while talking, or bump into a package-laden shopper while walking.
Right before taking a transatlantic flight to New Zealand to meet my husband’s parents for the first time, I ended up breaking my foot by missing a half-inch curb while I was skipping to the car. I spent my vacation being pushed around in a wheelchair and got engaged wearing a ten-pound plaster cast on my foot.
After the cast came off, I became used to his shouts of “curb!” or “step!” or “watch it!” when we went out with friends or on a late-night date.
But once I got pregnant in my 40s and felt new life blooming inside of me, I underwent a metamorphosis: my klutziness was replaced by cautiousness.
Life, for one thing, slowed way down. I gained 70 pounds and could no longer barrel my way through the street or the room—heck, even getting dressed in the morning was a challenge. My corpulence contained me, made everything much simpler—even though my mind became foggier. Which, oddly, also made everything simpler. Goodbye monkey mind. Hello, serenity. Being pregnant finally caused me to be as grounded in my body as a great oak tree.
Then I gave birth to my daughter, all 8 pounds, 12 ounces of her.
It’s hard to be flighty or klutzy or live in your head when you are recovering from a C-section and picking up your child feels as though you are lifting weights while being prodded with a hot poker. It’s doubly hard when you realize that this precious “weight” also depends on you for life and sustenance.
The first time I realized this was when I woke in the middle of the night to give my daughter a bottle. I worried that I’d drop her during those 20 precarious steps from her crib to my bed, so I held her as if she were a steaming hot pot that could spill over at any second if I wasn’t paying close attention.
And pay attention to her was all I did during those early days of motherhood.
My klutziness was replaced by an all-consuming vigilance.
While my husband was great at burping (and did his share of bottle and diaper duty), I was the one who was tethered to her by invisible strings. I diapered her, fed her, bathed her, watched her go to sleep, woke up instantly to her cries.
I couldn’t allow myself the luxury of ignoring my surroundings. I couldn’t take the chance of tripping and throwing myself out of commission as her head caretaker.
Nearly six years later, I’m the exact opposite of the “flighty” person I used to be.
Instead of falling off curbs or bumping into street lamps, I look both ways and scan the horizon before taking a single step, because usually, a trusting little girl’s hand is holding tightly onto mine.