Birds are chirping, angels are singing, and my little cherub has taken his first steps! He is proud as punch, and so am I. As he becomes more confident we are bracing for The BooBoo Phase, but we’re just so thrilled by his accomplishment!
What you may not know, is that my youngest son is nineteen months old. He has struggled to develop within a recognized timeline since the moment he was born, because he arrived a whole month ahead of schedule. Poor Archie wasn’t mature enough to suckle or hold down formula, so he spent a week hooked to a glucose drip in the NICU before we were allowed to take him home.
Once we had our early bird back in the nest, things started to progress normally. He latched like a champ, got all cute and chubby just from Mommy’s milk, and lifted his head before his brother had (though big brother was notoriously lazy when it came to his milestones). I was finally moving on from the trauma of having my newborn ripped away from me to stay in a cold, bright hospital, and it seemed like Archie was recovering as well.
Then came the bigger milestones like sitting and crawling. At every well-visit he was missing things, and I was worrying. Not as much as I would have worried if he had been my first baby, because first-time-moms take all the medals in the Worry Olympics, but still I worried as mothers do.
There is nothing like going in for a checkup thinking everything is fine and having the doctor tell you that your perfect child is concerning her. And with the physical milestones, there’s a whiff of “it’s Mommy’s fault” in the air. I know she’s thinking “don’t you play with your child? Stand him up? Get him to practice?” and all I can think is…I think so? I mean, with more than one child and moving across the state and living in a rental house, I haven’t really put every waking moment into getting my kid to walk. Besides, the rental is full of hazards for a baby that is just learning to explore. Really, I’m doing him a favor by not pushing the next phase, right?
Doctors have a series of tests they perform to check a child’s strength and ability, like tugging arms, turning ankles, and so on. After repeating the tests several times, the doctor (and her second opinion) confirmed there was nothing physically wrong with Archer, and he did not have cerebral palsy (OH MY WORD I DIDN’T KNOW THAT WAS AN OPTION) or any sort of malformation, he was just behind schedule. At fourteen months, when lifted off the exam-room table, he stuck his legs straight out instead of putting them down toward the surface. He should have been feeling for the table with his feet, but was instead hell-bent on holding up his dimpled thighs so as not to touch the paper. I mentioned that he often had trouble with new textures, and perhaps he was avoiding the paper on the table, when the doctors flipped open his chart again.
“Oh! He’s a preemie! Yes, aversion to textures is very common, as is late walking. We’ll sign him up for physical therapy.”
It took months to get an appointment for an evaluation, and the session lasted four hours, which is an eternity when you’re a year old. Archer performed very well, and impressed the examiner with his problem solving and puzzle skills, but was lackluster in gross motor skills, as we expected. Still, he only just qualified for physical therapy, and didn’t qualify in any other area, so at that point I pretty much surrendered the worry I had been clinging to and put my mind at ease. There was nothing physically wrong, he barely crossed the line to accept physical therapy, he is just behind. But we started therapy anyway, and also added services from an Education Specialist, who swore she could fix his temper (Archer had a wild case of Baby Rage, which I assumed was because he wanted to walk, dammit).
The thing about physical therapy for a child without an actual physical problem, is that no matter what tips and techniques you teach, you can’t rush progress. If your child crawled at eight months, would you be able to make them walk by nine? Probably not, because the act of standing on your feet every day is what transforms them from fluffy little marshmallows with toes to flatter, more human-shaped feet. It takes time to build the muscles necessary to hold a chubby little body upright, and I don’t know if you’ve been to the gym lately, but working hard gives you sore muscles and a bad attitude.
My kid was obviously exhausted after making the effort to stand while holding onto furniture, and try and she might, the therapist never had success while attempting to teach him exercises. She actually had the audacity to tell me the reason Archer won’t walk in the playroom is because the space we have given over to toy mayhem is too large, and he knows he won’t make it across the room. It’s official: parents are always at fault. Perhaps if we had made the closet under the stairs the play area then he’d be doing hurdles by now.
The specialist was, as predicted, not able to morph his Baby Rage into fuzzy bunny kisses any more than I would expect it to work on my own attitude. His assertiveness helps him handle himself around his big brother, and it shows determination and a desire to express himself. He doesn’t want to learn signs, he wants to learn words, and Poo On You if you can’t understand him the first time he says something. This attitude is helpful in the playroom, but less so when it comes to physical therapy exercises.
Our lovely therapist worked hard to engage Archie, but he was having none of it.
“Can you hold the wall and reach up for these super cool pieces of tape?”
“No.” *turns his back to the therapist and folds his arms*.
“Ok, let’s practice squatting! Can you put the toys in the bucket down here?”
“NO!” *throws toys, tips bucket, and crawls out of reach*.
The Education Specialist was also lovely, but her goals seemed even more ridiculous. She had written down in her paperwork that her aim was to be able to snatch a toy away from Archie and for him not to get upset. I actually laughed. Why should that be a behavior goal? As my husband pointed out, if someone snatched his laptop, he would be pissed. Why are we teaching this baby not to be phased by theft? This kid has his work cut out for him with Jackson stomping around and pilfering whatever he fancies. Archie’s attitude, boundaries, and grit are what help him survive in this jungle.
The Specialist eventually got Archie to pass toys back and forth to her, but when Jackson was home during a session and she tried to engage him in the process, Archie refused to share with him. I explained that I wouldn’t share with Jackson either, because Jackson doesn’t share back. My kid is smart, not bratty, okay? He’ll share with the Specialist with the sing-song voice because she always gives toys back right away and he thinks it’s a game. He won’t share with Mommy because when I ask him to give me whatever is in his hands, it’s usually because he’s not supposed to have it and I’m about to hide it from him or throw it away. He won’t share with Jackson because Jack has a very OJ Simpson outlook on the playroom toys: “If I can’t have them, no one can”. Once you give a toy to Jackson, it’s his, because he got here first. He will share with Daddy, because Daddy is everyone’s favorite and can do no wrong.
After I learned a couple signs that Archer purposefully ignored, I realized that the Specialist was basically coming over three times a month for a play date with my son. She would give me tips like: “make sure you make a lot of noises around him like the sound of cars so he learns to use his mouth for words”. Meanwhile, Archie is running cars on her legs, going “weeoo weeoo weeoo beeep beeep! Guck! Guck!” mimicking sirens, horns, and the word ‘truck’. Mm hmm, gee thanks, I’m so glad you’re here! What would I do without you?
On our most recent visit, she showed me how to read my son a book. I guess she was trying to show me that I don’t have to stick to the story, I can just point things out to Archie and make sound effects, but Lord Almighty, it took a lot of mental effort to keep my facial expressions in check. The woman works her ass off making silly noises and engaging my son, but she knows I have another kid, and there is a bookshelf in the playroom visible from where she sits. I am familiar with the process.
Archie hasn’t seen the physical therapist in a month, has never once reproduced an exercise she attempted with him, and is now walking. His schedule was just different, and that’s fine. And what is the rush? My first son didn’t walk until fourteen months, and by fourteen months and one week he was running and hasn’t stopped since. What is the point in stressing my kid out, wearing him out, taking his toys to intentionally piss him off, and interrupting nap time with this nonsense? Our previous pediatrician once told me her daughter walked at eight months, and at eight years old is the clumsiest person on earth. Meeting milestones is garbage science when taken too seriously. Don’t try telling first-time-moms that, though. They don’t listen to our garbage.