In a family of five, belongings get lost quickly and easily. My three-year-old is notorious for pilfering objects from one room of the house and stashing them elsewhere, like a bird attracted to small, shiny things. There is a veritable treasure trove of toys and books and puzzle pieces beneath our couch. Giving the directive to “put that away where it belongs” leads to wildly different results depending on which child is on the receiving end of those instructions.
I’ve learned not to grow overly attached to things. If it’s important, I have to think long and hard about where it should be put—and what childproof tactics I want to employ—to ensure its safekeeping. Otherwise, when something gets lost, I shrug and move on. It will turn up eventually or it won’t, and in the meantime, we’ll learn to live without it (or find a suitable replacement).
But when my baby carrier went missing a few months ago, I was bereft. I always kept it in the trunk of our minivan, using it frequently to carry my youngest son on family hikes. I was headed out for a hike, in fact, when I discovered it was missing. A search of the entire house ensued, full of panic and accusations (“Where is it? Did you move it? How does it just disappear?”). Nearly an hour later, the search ended in resignation. It must have fallen out of the trunk somewhere, probably in a parking lot, amidst my haste to load or unload something from the van and herd three children safely into their seats. I could think of no other explanation.
I also couldn’t muster up a good reason for why I was so crushed over its disappearance. It felt like I’d lost a limb. I’ve written before about my forays into hiking with my children, and I’d been using the carrier more and more in the last couple of years as we made an effort to go exploring as much as possible. But technically, my youngest son didn’t need to be carried anymore—he was nearly two. He could hike with us on his own. Sure, it would take three times as long, but that wasn’t what kept me from leaving the carrier in the trunk and letting him run alongside his brothers.
I wanted him close to me. I loved having a little kangaroo joey, a cozy backpack baby. Whichever position I carried him in, he was right there with me—his fat fingers in my hair, his hand-me-down shoes swinging beside my hips. And mostly, aside from the occasional restless squirming, he was content to be close to me, too.
It’s worth noting that this is not a child who is content to be still, ever. He has to be doubly secured in his booster seat at the kitchen table. He resists being strapped in his car seat with such ferocity that it would be funny if it wasn’t so sweat-inducing. He generally has two modes: running full-speed and sleeping. In the carrier, though, he was happily confined. It was bliss.
I didn’t know what to do: I wasn’t ready to be carrier-free, but it seemed silly and frivolous to buy another one. My days of hiking with him in it were numbered even before it went missing. He started walking at eight months old and hasn’t stopped moving since; this is not a child who needs to be carried.
Still, I couldn’t help myself. I found a used carrier in good condition for sale online and a family member offered to buy it for us, since I was struggling to justify the expense. When it arrived in the mail a week later, it felt strange to try it on, like I was slipping on someone else’s personal effects without their permission. I had felt intimately attached to my own carrier. Who were the mother and baby duo that had shared this carrier, and where had they gone together?
At the same time, I liked the cyclical nature of adopting the used carrier. It was broken-in and clearly well loved. I found it easy to snap the buckles and adjust the straps to my waist and shoulders. It would allow me to enjoy the last remaining moments of my son’s babyhood for just a little bit longer. When he was ready to venture off on his own, I could retire it without guilt or regret.
The first time I hiked with all three boys after getting the new-to-us carrier, I put my son in the front carry position. I relished having him so kissably close again, our cheeks easily pressed together against the cool winter air. He babbled and kicked happily, pointing out ducks and good-naturedly trying to take off my hat.
When we hiked again a few weeks later, on a much flatter trail, I put on his snow boots and set him down next to his brothers. He looked up at me, standing still.
“Go ahead,” I said. “You can walk today.”
He bolted ahead on the trail, chasing after his brothers, slipping on a patch of ice and catching himself with his hands. He ran gleefully away from me, not looking back once. A few minutes later, he slipped again, this time falling into the snow.
“Are you okay?” I asked, helping him stand.
“Yep,” he said breathlessly. His brothers were waiting for us at a small river bridge, ready to cross. I reached down to hold his hand but he pulled it away. Instead, he stretched out his arms.
I smiled and picked him up. I carried him across the bridge—his windblown cheek next to mine, his muddy boots swinging against my hips.
About the Author
Sarah Bradley is a freelance writer and creative writing instructor from Connecticut. She is a mother to three wild and wonderful boys and a wife to one extremely patient husband. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Lost Country and The Forge Literary Magazine. In her so-called “free time,” Sarah is a homeschooler, avid baker and lover of all things DIY. She also knows way more about dinosaurs than she ever thought possible. You can find her offering her freelance services at pentopapercreativewriting.