Three years ago tonight, I felt you kick for the very first time. I was standing on the corner of our street, watching the kids walk by with their faroles, tiny dots of light in the darkness. As if you were stirred by all the kids milling around you, I felt the smallest of bubbles somewhere within: pop pop pop. I’m here. It wasn’t until hours later that I was sure what I was feeling, but I felt them on that corner on the eve of Independence Day.
The faroles are a Costa Rican homage to the lanterns women carried in Antigua, Guatemala, this night in 1821, as they waited outside the Palacio del Gobierno to find out whether the men huddled within would put an end to 300 years of Spanish rule. Independence took nearly a month to reach Costa Rica – the vote here was held on Oct. 11 of that year – but September 14th is the night that Costa Rican kids take paper lanterns and march through the streets. It’s always been one of my favorite Costa Rican traditions, although now, thanks to you, I have a real ticket to the show.
Your own independence won’t be won overnight, although I know it will feel that way to me. It does already. Tonight we walked around the corner to the neighborhood school and into a noisy crowd of kids and parents, with a warbling, unintelligible teacher’s voice barely audible from somewhere in the building’s innards. A vast city and menagerie of lanterns circled us: houses, pulperías, turtles, toucans, Celso Borges’ soccer jersey. Cars whizzed past and we wondered how this sea of small humans was supposed to launch forth into the traffic, but then a man emerged with a very large flashlight and megaphone, the universal signals of tremendous authority, and beckoned us forward.
The school band of xylophones and drums played, for some reason, “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Your dad addressed you in English. I addressed you in Spanish. In that slush of languages and cultures, we plunged into the street.
You had clung to my legs at the school, overwhelmed by the huge mob of restless kids and tired parents, and once the parade began you assessed the scene for about half a block. Then, however, you discovered you were in your element. (Walking. Lights. Interesting noises. Need I say more?)
“Look at all the PEOPLE,” you said with deep delight.
“Yup. These are your people,” I responded.
You took this to heart. “Come on!” you said to the crowd around you, marching forward, holding your flashing LED light in your hand – the lantern we’d brought had proved to be too unwieldy for you. “Awwww, YEAH.”
This little creature who, just three years ago, had just that moment begun to make herself felt within her mother’s belly, was ready to storm the barricades. You ran ahead happily, savoring your freedom. Your dad and I walked behind you in the crowd, our eyes always fixed on the pigtails in front of us, little glints of gold in the dark. We held hands in the fleeting way of the parents of toddlers: catching each other for a few moments, then releasing as one or the other lunged forward to keep you from moving too far forward in the throng, or to make sure you wouldn’t fall into a gutter deeper than you are tall. (What I have learned about marriage-and-parenting thus far is that if you can keep those hands coming back together, the way tennis players should reset after every stroke, that’s a beginning.)
We watched you revel in your first nighttime parade, an early taste of independence. We watched, conscious that you will take on the world many times in the years ahead, and that we must enjoy these front-row seats while we can. We watched, knowing that our own independence will never be quite the same, we chaperones whose eyes were glued to you, we followers who mirrored your movements left or right, forward or back. We are no longer sovereign states. We have been conquered, fair and square, but that’s just what we’d been hoping for. We surrendered long ago with open arms.