Monday, March 28, 2011

On Turning One, Developmental Milestones, Being Proactive and Letting Go

Cedar turned one on Friday, and is on the cusp of so much change. He’s been a bit of a “late bloomer” on a lot of fronts—the most obvious one being the fact that he still has not figured out how to crawl. I didn’t worry about it much for many months since I knew that crawling was not an essential milestone and some babies skip it all together and go straight to walking. But as more time went by and I watched my friends’ babies who were the same age scramble across floors and furniture, I began to worry-- just a little. It wasn’t just that he wasn’t crawling, but he wasn’t moving around much—rolling, lunging, or dragging his body in ways that other non-crawlers nevertheless learn to get around. He abhorred tummy time, and within seconds would usually just sink his face into the carpet, complaining. Mostly, he seemed fairly content to just sit there and stretch his body as far as he could for the toys that were within reach--developing an impressive ability to do the splits. You could see him looking at something and calculating whether it was worth going for, and in many cases he’d decide, nope, too far.

Online one day, I ran across a link to a free developmental screening offered by the local nonprofit Parent Trust. Why not? I thought. Even though people like my mom told me not to worry, Cedar would crawl when he was ready, I knew I would feel better if I was being more proactive. I wanted an expert to tell me not to worry, or to suggest exercises I should do with him. I’d tried for months placing tantalizing objects like the remote control or other things he wanted but wasn’t allowed to have just out of his reach, then putting him on his tummy and encouraging him to come get it. This occasionally motivated him sufficiently to inch forward a tiny bit, but almost always ended in cries of frustration.

I’m really glad I went to the screening. We sat on the floor in a room full of toys with a woman for an hour and I answered questions about what Cedar could and couldn’t do, while we observed him play. The screening confirmed what I suspected—Cedar was right on target with everything, with the exception of gross motor skills. It wasn’t so much the actual not crawling that was significant, but more that he figure out how to move his body around and get places and things by himself. Cedar had rolled over more or less “on time,” but he rarely did it. Cedar had also not figured out to sit up from a lying down position. He could hold his weight just fine when I helped him stand on his legs, and he was getting more and more balanced while standing against a couch, but he was still pretty far from being able to scoot himself around by himself while holding on to furniture. He was probably most active when he was pulling himself up onto my body, but he still often favored his tiptoes instead of standing flat-footed.

The woman didn’t raise any alarm bells with me, but she did encourage me to start giving him more tummy time—perhaps more often, but for shorter periods. We needed to see how much of his not crawling had to do with the fact that he didn’t have enough practice and motivation, or, if he still didn’t progress in the next month (he was eleven months when I brought him in), then I might want to look into whether he had weak muscle tone. Also, she encouraged me to give him plenty of opportunities to practice standing, for instance by putting toys on the couch for him to reach for and play with while standing up.  

I’d done this before, but now I was definitely more motivated because I had concrete suggestions, perspective, and accountability to someone whom I trusted and liked. It just was that much more on my radar to make sure Cedar got more than just one token attempt at tummy time a day.

It’s been amazing to watch how much he has now learned and explored in just a few short weeks. I don’t know how much of this had to do with my efforts, and how much coincided with the timing and the fact that he was just ready, but it didn’t take long for him to get more tolerant of hanging out on his tummy (reading to him in that position worked well since he loves books), even if he still was far from crawling. And then one day he figured out how to push himself up back onto his knees and then awkwardly get his legs out from under him back into his favored triangle-leg sitting position. This was huge! Once he practiced this a few more times and mastered it, then being put on his tummy was no longer a big deal since he could easily push himself back up. Granted, this means he is still not increasing his tummy time, but what he has been doing is lunging for things, falling onto his tummy, then sitting back up. Or else he’ll use one leg to scoot himself around on his bottom. I can still get away with plopping him down with some books on the floor and going into the other room for a minute (max), but on the contrary, I am getting more cautious about leaving him in the middle of our king-sized bed for even a few seconds (especially if our cat, Miles, is lying there, for Miles is one “forbidden to grab object” that Cedar will not hesitate to lunge towards). While it’s been kind of nice to have been able to delay worrying about childproofing (especially our bed, which we all sleep on and which we’ll have to change to just a mattress on the floor really soon), this is not something that I have wanted to brag about.

Although Cedar still lags behind many of his peers who mastered crawling long ago and are well on their way to walking, I know that there is a big range in which babies hit their milestones and now that he’s made so much progress in just a few weeks, I feel reaffirmed not to worry. I also know better than to blame myself or worry that I created his lack of motivation to move because I “carry him too much” or bring toys to his side. Surely giving him more tummy time helped, but I also think that the main factor in how kids develop has to do with their innate personalities and bodies. Cedar has never liked to be laid down for long (perhaps partly due to his frequent early discomfort from gas?), and so I’ve held him all the more. Cedar has also always been a watchful baby, content to sit back and take things in as opposed to a baby who impulsively lunges and grabs for things. He loves books and is content to sit there flipping through one after another on his own. He alternates between being quiet and serious, and being loud and talkative. I continue to be astounded by how fast he recognizes new songs and words.

Even though Cedar will probably be a late walker too, I am nevertheless beginning to see the toddler in him emerging. This is both exciting and a bit scary (can you say, hello temper tantrums and stubborn will?). Although he has yet to utter his first words beyond mama and dada (and perhaps a few others I can’t be sure of), I can tell he understands so much more than I realize. I ask, “Do you want to read a story?” and his eyes flash up to the bookshelf by the bed. “How about ‘Mud’?” I’ll say, and he’ll smile and pant and wave his arms excitedly. In response to other questions he’ll answer simply by uttering the all-purpose affirmative syllable, “Na.” I feel like I can now have a call and response conversation with him, and I witness more and more of his distinct little person every day. What happened to my baby? He’s still there. But so now is the vision of a growing, opinionated child.

Case in point: just yesterday I registered him for a toddler co-op preschool starting in the fall. It will only be once a week for a couple hours and I will be there with him (unless it’s one of the alternating where I’ll spend an hour in the ‘parent education’ group), yet still, it is a bit mind boggling to already be signing him up for something called school! It’s exciting to think of all the books, animals, songs, games, train tracks, jungle gyms, circle times, dancing, painting, cooking, and sensory projects to introduce him to in the years to come (hello nascent preschool teacher inside!—yes, I’ve worked part-time in preschools since high school, and I probably still would if they didn’t pay so little). At the same time, I also keep reminding myself to imprint the image of him now, as a baby, in my mind. Imprint, imprint, imprint. For it won’t be long before I’ll look back on pictures of today and say, “Look how little he was!” instead of bemoaning how BIG he’s gotten, and how much carrying him around is killing my back.

Other recent changes for Cedar include finally waving bye bye, finally cutting his first tooth at eleven months, and just in the last week or so—rolling around or outright sitting up as I nurse him to sleep in bed (or when he wakes up later on). Part of this has to do with the fact that we finally stopped swaddling him at eleven months (I asked the popular Seattle nurse and educator Anne Kepler what she thought about us still swaddling, and she said if it was still working for us no reason to stop swaddling before he’s a year or so). The transition went just fine, although I fear the day when he outright protests going to sleep AND we can’t just confine him in a crib and walk away since we don’t use a crib. (Cross that bridge when we get there). For now, I am grateful that he goes to sleep mostly without protest and sleeps pretty well at night (without flailing all over the place) by my side.

I’m supposed to schedule another appointment with the developmental screening lady soon to check in, but I don’t feel a pressing need to now that Cedar’s made so much progress. I think I still will however, because I enjoyed having a knowledgeable and concerned woman to talk to at length about my son’s growth, especially when my visits with Cedar’s doctor at Group Health are so hurried and short.  The screening also helped put on the radar for me other developmental skills to look out for in the coming months and gave me ideas for activities to do with Cedar to help encourage them. Any Washington state resident can schedule one if your child is between the ages of one month and five and a half years.

I do not aspire to be the kind of mother who is obsessed with developmental milestones or to be constantly comparing my child to the children of others, but I admit, it’s hard not to enter the comparison game, especially when I know so many parents of children who were born within a month of Cedar since we were all in the same PEPS group. I suspect we all do it, whether we are aware of it or not. It doesn’t just happen when our children can’t do something that others can. It also happens in the natural bubbles of pride that swell when our child does do something new that seems fairly advanced. But it’s so important to keep all of this developmental milestone and comparison business in perspective. Watch, take notice, celebrate, and talk to others about your concerns. Try not to worry or jump to conclusions, but also be proactive and look into it. I know this can sound contradictory, but for me, I worry more if I try to corral off my worries into a little corner of my mind that I don’t want to look too hard at. I feel better if I investigate my small seeds of concern, and take conscious actions. That way I can know
that I’ve done what I can do, which makes the more important and difficult act of letting go that much easier. 

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