We chose The Hidden Valley Trail. An easy 1-mile hike I thought the girls could handle. I watched as they ran free along the clearly marked trail. The blue sky speckled with perfectly white clouds. A landscape painted with rocks that rose from the ground like water-logged sandcastles. The girls giggled at the sight of the Joshua trees that reminded them of Dr. Seuss stories. They wondered if the black crows perched upon them might have tales of their own to tell.

We walked three-quarters of the loop when Adeline (3) decided her little legs had brought her far enough. On a whim, before we left I grabbed the old forgotten baby carrier still laying in the trunk of the car, and for the rest of the hike, she got a free ride.

As she laid on my back, saying “look, mom” in my ear, I thought about all the times I’d carried her. My 9 months of pregnancy. That first year she spent mostly on my chest, her sweet-smelling head just a kiss away. The long nights I held her, swaying back and forth, hoping in every moment that she might fall back asleep.

Now the last days of her baby years inched further behind us with every step. We wouldn’t have a need for that carrier anymore. Even the shoes on her feet would likely be outgrown by the end of this trip. For a moment, I mourned the loss of that part of my motherhood journey. Of baby toes and hand-holding. But the beauty around me was a reminder of all the wonder in the world, and I smiled.

I’m excited for the possibilities that lay ahead for my girls. And I hope this trip will plant the seed of adventure. Though this younger one may not remember many of the details, I know this experience will stay with her. She won’t know why, but she’ll feel a strength inside her. It will be what gives her the confidence to know she can endure more than is expected. That she can travel outside her comfort zone and grow to be a woman who can take on the world.

She’ll remember the warmth of our togetherness, the essence of our stories. And how mommy was always there, ready to carry her. She’ll know, even when I’ve grown old and she becomes the adult who leads, that I’ll still be there in whatever way to help her follow through.

So for now, on this trip, I was happy to carry her a little bit longer.