Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Much Ado About Milestones

Nothing, I am convinced, brings out the competitive spirit in new parents as does the clocking of milestones by their children.

Unfortunately for me, both La Niña and El Niño were late bloomers in the first fifteen months of their lives. They got their first tooth late. They started walking late. They didn’t sit up until much after they had turned seven months old.

The Husband remained calm in the face of the delays, and tried to relieve my anxieties. He insisted that all things would happen when they had to and that there never was a case of a child not having any teeth. He added that those who have a head start in the running department don’t necessarily become accomplished athletes. But I worried. And I prayed.
Both my children also skipped the crawling stage entirely. Instead, they preferred to move forward on their rears, using their hands to propel themselves forward. La Niña pitched camp at sitting position for a long time, then did the rear-onward act, and then finally began to cruise around using the furniture and the walls for support. She began to walk independently exactly one month after her first birthday. El Niño sat around for a long time, then moved forward exactly as his sister had done.
I agonized over it. There always seemed to be someone or the other waiting to remind me that their own children had started flipping over onto the belly at 3 months, sat up at 5 months and started running at 7 months of age. My futile attempts to remind them that there was a range of months, not one magical day, during which children could ‘normally’ attain milestones met with derision because their kids had clocked those positions at the beginning of the range. I even weaned myself off Facebook to avoid seeing the videos and photos of the exploits of other mothers’ super-endowed children.
Some people tried to be helpful. They ventured the suggestion that maybe La Niña and El Niño both had very heavy heads, making it difficult for them to bear the weight on their thin legs. The Husband, ever the optimist, beamed with pleasure, reminding me the way Sherlock Holmes had reminded Dr Watson in The Blue Carbuncle – “A man with so large a head must have something in it.”
Eventually El Niño skipped the intervening milestones to start walking. Of course, he would walk if we walked backwards, holding both his hands in ours, and led him on. But the confident walk came a week short of the day he completed 16 months of age.
The teething aspect also gave us a fair degree of trouble. La Niña got her first tooth at 11 months of age and El Niño at 13 months. But that didn’t stop either of them from enjoying a range of foods.
I wish doctors would play their part in relieving the anxieties of parents regarding the clocking of developmental milestones. Often kids don’t tick off all milestones in the order in which it appears they should. There is no guarantee that a child will first turn on its side, then on its tummy, then do some back and front movements, prop itself up into a sitting position, crawl, pull itself up into a standing position, cruise around with the help of furniture, and then walk.
As parents, we would do well to remember that no two babies are alike, not even siblings, when it comes to coursing the developmental path. Each baby develops at a different pace. To gauge the milestones of premature babies, paediatricians recommend the use of an ‘adjusted’ age to level the field. The adjusted age takes into account the difference between the baby’s birth date and the mother’s due date and deduct that difference from the baby’s age.
Having gone through my own concerns for my children, I have begun to understand that parents must keep themselves informed about the normal range for all milestones, and report their fears to their child’s doctor. Often the right kind of stimulation and encouragement can help a child to achieve the next milestone. And if a child does not attain the milestone by the time he/she should, it might be time for some medical intervention.
Through countless nighttime worries and readings of relevant websites, I have also begun to understand that growth and development from the perspective of babies is just like an elevator in a really tall building. Children will not get off at every floor, and some might spent inordinately more time on one floor than on another, and some others might skip a few floors and revisit them at a later date. It does not matter.
There are always some milestones that parents can enjoy and cherish. In my case, while my children took their own sweet time with regard to locomotion and teething, they were quick to reach their cognitive, emotional and linguistic milestones. Both La Niña and El Niño turned their heads to catch sounds pretty early. They made eye contact, turned their heads at the sound of their names, smiled, cooed, gurgled, laughed, grabbed things, extended arms and legs, waved, tried to feed themselves and babbled in response to conversation in four languages – all bang on schedule or in some cases, even earlier. Surely that is no mean feat, the Husband reminded me.
Fortunately for my peace of mind, eventually the milestones that had been in a stage of arrested development showed themselves. El Niño, having managed the putting-one-foot-before-another business spared no time in catching up with the running, jumping and climbing milestones. Today they both keep me on my toes with their naughty antics and their precociousness.
I’m certain my prayers helped.



This post was originally written for Parentous.com, on online community for parenting-related issues. You can read the original post HERE.


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