Saturday we bought Finley's first pairs of real shoes. Not the little newborn ones you stick on their helpless little feet for show, but the kind babies wear when they're learning to walk. He is learning to walk. He holds on with one little hand and wobbles around like an itty bitty drunk. He got small, puffy feet from my side of the family, and we had to buy special baby shoes because they're the only ones that would fit. I don't think my last three or four pairs of shoes cost as much as the two pair we bought.
But sitting in the shoe store, debating the costs of teeny tennies and soft-sole dress shoes made for 6-9-month-old babies, I suddenly wanted to cry. Not because my boy is growing up, because that's what we always wanted him to do, but because my other boy is not. I found myself thinking we should be buying twice as many little shoes, and wondering if Oliver's feet would have been round and stumpy, too. I started to think of what our life should have been like, when I realize that I can only guess what it would have been like. What should be is certainly only God's area of expertise. I only have selfish shoulds—to keep a baby in this world that so valiantly went to the next. Who is in God's own hands instead of mine. Who will have the blessings of eternity and our forever family as much having gone when he did as if he lived a lifetime in this world. I can say it would have been different. But it isn't. And who am I to say it should have been?
Later that day at the cemetery I see the tiny footprints we had placed on his gravestone. They aren't much smaller than his footprints when we was born—or were his feet that small? One was turned in from the small space he had in the womb, and both were swollen from their station blocking Finley's exit and saving his life, even though he had never before been first in line to be born.
I looked down at my belly (and it's hard to look down and see anything other than belly these days) and almost gasped at the realization that there was no teeny tiny baby in my womb anymore. The feet that will come out in the next week or two will be much, much larger than the tiny footprints on the gravestone. And they might even be average, thin baby feet instead of the roly poly feet I managed to pass to my little almost-walker. I wonder if we'll buy her expensive shoes to learn to walk in, too. Probably, at least for that stage, but maybe not because nothing else will fit. She'll probably learn to walk at the average age and have average feet. She might be what people consider totally normal, or maybe even bright and developmentally ahead. I don't know what to expect from a term baby—not even "early term," because we're so close to her due date now that she'll have every gestational advantage a baby could want.
I'm seeing a pattern now. Will I gestate my next baby for a year? I suppose that child will come out a superhero, possibly with long, gangly feet. My children so far are shaping up to be unexpected and unlikely people with unpredictable fates. To die, to thrive in the face of difficulties, to come despite heavily stacked odds and be uniquely safe and healthy. I wonder who they will be in ten years, or twenty, or when we meet in the next life. I wonder if, in Heaven, there will be a pair of very tiny feet that I can buy expensive shoes for and watch learn to toddle, so many years from now.