Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Baby Race

In the beginning, I didn't worry too much about how quickly or slowly our child was progressing. She had been born early enough that most things took more time. Meanwhile, the doctors assured us that when she was developmentally ready, she would accomplish those milestones.

This was vividly brought into illustrated relief as we tried to coax her into latching and nursing. After weeks of trying everything we could think of, and spending numerous sessions with a lactation consultant trying one strategy after another, the little girl woke up on her original due date with the sudden realization that sucking at the breast actually meant food! It was as if a switch had suddenly been turned on, and her latching and sucking found a new competency. After that, it wasn't easy, but it wasn't such a grueling slog to keep her fed.

After that, I took "developmentally ready" as a calming mantra. As in: when she was developmentally ready, she'd smile, eat solid food, sit up, etcetera. Other children would have been progressing at a mad pace or taking their own time, but this little girl took her own time with everything, moving along faster with some things and slower with others.

Then this month, I've been hit with more direct comparisons, and the results have been unexpectedly disconcerting.

We started a baby signing class, and I was very surprised that most of the other babies, most of them younger than my girl, were already crawling and exploring anything within reach.

Without meaning to, I start comparing my baby to everyone else's. She's bigger than most of the babies, except that one, who is younger than she is. Most of the babies are crawling while this little one is content to sit. One little girl comes up to her and reaches for the toy she's been chewing on. Some of the babies stare at our faces, others zone out. Some babies clap their hands together. My little girl stares as if she remembers that from somewhere.

My girl watches everybody, then reaches out with her elegant sense of balance and snags a toy duck to examine. She pokes an index finger into the mat material and runs her hands over the smooth plastic of a toy car, turning it over in her hands. Other babies cry and scream. My girl starts babbling to me as if to say, "Look at all of these babies!"

It's a study in variation.

So it took her forever to roll over or sit up comfortably, but she was stringing together sounds and "talking" to us months earlier than many sources say to expect single-note babbling. I'm proud of her being "early" for some things, but I find myself envious that other babies younger than her are already eating finger food and toddling about, so it's an inevitable adjustment.

Talking to others can be fun, encouraging, commiserating. But it's so easy to let our less-comfortable feelings get pulled into the mix. Whenever I sense another parent getting pulled into comparative boasting, I find myself backing away. It's nice to hear how your child is doing well, but why make it a race? I also catch myself feeling badly that my baby is not doing some of these things that others already seem to take for granted, and I warn myself away from that as well.

Well, we are all inclined to be proud of our children, aren't we? We want to feel good about their progress and that they are achieving their potential appropriately.

Sometimes I've been so laid back about certain milestones that I hardly push her. Is that a good thing, either? I don't want her to feel under pressure, but a little frustration can be a great motivator! When I came home from the first class, I once again took her hands and clapped them together, saying See, Mommy claps her hands, baby can clap her hands. Before too long, there she was, slapping her hands together and occasionally making some noise.

Encouraged, I give her some finger food. No dice! I'll try again in a few weeks. And so it goes...


Lori said...

Steel yourself for the preschool/early school days...I think that's when it gets really comparative/competitive.

By the way, your little one may very well bypass crawling and go straight to walking.

Joy! said...

Lori, I've heard from several places that babies will often skip right past the crawling stage. Mine has recently learned to scoot forward on her bottom to get places. Once she even got herself stuck up against a piece of furniture because she hadn't learned to move in reverse! Funnily enough, I think she figured out the scooting motion from her "dancing" to music. It's fun to watch them learn from their experiences.

Aaiyiyi, not looking forward to the school years' competitions! :) Mostly I am very curious how we will discover her strengths and weaknesses, her interests and talents. I'm looking forward to that!