Labor Pains: Iâ€™m Frustrated By My Toddlerâ€™s Late Milestones
My daughter is a toddler who doesnâ€™t toddle. She is 17 months old and she doesnâ€™t walk. And before you ask: yes, she stands, yes she cruises on furniture, and yes, weâ€™ve forced her into taking a step here or there. But no, sheâ€™s not interested in walking.
â€œYou donâ€™t want her to walk,â€ is the common refrain. â€œThatâ€™s when the trouble begins.â€
I usually smile in response. Of course you are right, my nod implies. But inside, I want to yell, â€œYou are an idiot! Of course I want my daughter to reach a huge physical milestone! Sheâ€™s 17 months old and weighs over 30 pounds. The time has come!â€
Weâ€™ve been here before, my daughter and I. She was a late mover. A late roller. A late smiler. A late crawler and a late stander. At each of these milestones, Iâ€™ve done everything I can to help facilitate her growth. Iâ€™ve Googled, talked to her doctor, and sought help on message forums and from friends. But nothing has made my daughter move before she wanted to. She smiled at almost nine weeks. She really began rolling around five months. Sitting didnâ€™t start until nine months. Crawling took off at 12 months. And walking? Weâ€™re still waiting for it.
Do I seem defensive? Thatâ€™s because I am.
My doctor suggested we consider physical therapy if sheâ€™s not walking by 18 months. And every time I take my daughter to church, walk by our neighborâ€™s house, or pop into our local grocery store where the clerk knows me by name, I hear, â€œSo, is she walking yet?â€
â€œNo,â€ I smile. â€œBut she does say â€˜provoloneâ€™!â€
And then the advice comes. â€œIs her doctor worried?â€ â€œHave you tried bribing her?â€ â€œWhy donâ€™t you stop carrying her?â€ â€œOh, just stop worrying about it!â€ â€œYou donâ€™t want her to walk anyway.â€
In response, I cringe. I smile. I walk away with my chubby, happy baby nestled in my arms. And my daughter? She grins and waves, completely unphased by the condescension of strangers or my irritated sighs. The sight of other children running laps around her doesnâ€™t frustrate or motivate. She simply smiles and claps for them, or points and yells, â€œOh no, baby!â€ When she thinks theyâ€™re too far away.
My daughterâ€™s refusal to walk has placed me directly at the intersection of public criticism, my own expectations and who she is as a little woman. And she is lovely, bold, confident, cheerful, and generous, so why do I care if she walks or when? Shouldnâ€™t I just be happy that she is happy?
Maybe. But thatâ€™s not how it works. I hate the constant comments and I hate that I hate them. I am the adult, or thatâ€™s what the age on my driverâ€™s license seems to imply. I should know by now that outside criticism is nothing to be cowed by. And I should know that if we have to go to physical therapy, my daughter will be fine. Sheâ€™ll think itâ€™s a lovely game, learn how to walk, and be on her merry way. (And it is a merry way.) In the end, being a late walker wonâ€™t keep her out of Harvard and, despite my fears, I wonâ€™t be carrying her to kindergarten. (I might have to roll her in a wagon.)
But thatâ€™s the truth about parenting. Physical milestones. Breastfeeding. Organic food. Baby wearing. Sleep training. Potty training. Itâ€™s more about me than it is about her. My frustrations and my pains come when I have to adjust my expectations and approach to meet the demands of the lovely, stubborn, happy little woman that she is.
But in the end, thatâ€™s all I want her to beâ€”the person she is, not the person I think she should be, or the person other people think she should be. So, I continue to heft her to my hip. I try to stop Googling and do my best to enjoy these moments before she takes her first steps out of babyhood and into toddlerhood. Thatâ€™s when the real trouble begins.
Or so they tell me.