Expectations and comparisons (Letter 013)

Photo shows three pictures of Baobao sitting with big brother Carl the Second behind her

In which Papa Zesser ponders sudden panic, the dangers (and benefits) of comparing cousins, and revels in a sudden accomplishment. Also, he finds himself disregarding the advice of Doctor Spock against his better judgement.

Developmental expectations, current reality and the unknown future (Letter 013)

Thursday, April 23, 2020

My darling Baobao,

I grew up being told by my parents that I was special; your grandfather used to sing a song to both me and to your uncle Tom when his time came which began, “O perfect child!” That kind of attention did indeed have its intended affect on me — I had and have a pretty strong sense of confidence in my own abilities — but it had the opposite on your uncle, who felt instead that he couldn’t measure up to the promise of the song.

Also, I walked at around nine months, three weeks, while my younger brother walked around nine months, one week. So I have to some extent been expecting you to be a bit of a prodigy in these things as well.

Photo of Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care (10th Edition)
An earlier version of this book was my mother’s child-raising bible, and it is a book I have found extremely useful as well.

Fortunately, my tendency towards to imposing arbitrary expectations upon your unique self has been tempered by, among other things, one of the (many!) wise motifs I have found while searching through Doctor Spock’s classic Baby and Child Care (10th edition) for information on this, that, or the other thing about a baby’s development, namely, that every baby is different, that each baby develops at their own pace, and that a parent is making a mistake if they spend a lot of time watching their child’s progress with a chart of landmarks ready to hand.

Take Spock on walking as a fer’instance.

Most babies learn to walk at between twelve and fifteen months. A few start earlier, and some a little later. In otherwise healthy babies, the age of walking doesn’t have much to do with other developmental attainments. An early walker is no more likely to be bright intellectually than a late one. You don’t have to do anything to teach your child to walk. When her muscles, her nerves, and her spirit are ready, you won’t be able to stop her. (Page 97)

This is really good information for a parent to have. The average age a baby starts to walk includes a three month range — a huge number when one has lived only 15 months at the outside! (And jeez, your uncle and I really did walk young! But I digress.)

So, your mum and I have been mostly pretty relaxed about your development, taking pleasure in your advances, but not worrying over-much about apparent “developmental delays”, as (I believe) the kids put it these days.

Until this past Sunday.

Who’s that cousin,

Getting away from you …?

Photo of Baobao propped up in a blue laundry basket.
I dunno why she’s not crawling yet!

Your overseas cousin, whom I will here and hereafter refer to as Paula, is about three years old now. She not only provides you with hand-me-down clothes (some of which came originally from your mother as presents!), but also with a well-documented developmental comparison over time.

On Sunday evening after supper, your mum mentioned to me that Paula first started sitting up at five months, that she was crawling at seven months, and that she was standing and jumping in her crib by the time she was nine months old!

And we couldn’t help but suddenly realize that you, by comparison, are not quite crawling yet at eight months, and that whenever we’d prop you up on your bum, you tended to topple over almost immediately.

Suddenly you’re delight in cheese-eating didn’t seem such a special skill.

The high cost of comparisons or,

The value of a little competition?

Photo of baby 'reading' a book.
It’s all fine and good to exercise your brain young lady, but what about your body?

Sunday night for me was one of guilty concern. Concern because, What if there is something wrong with you? Especially in a time of plague, when one feels that going to see a doctor (never mind a hospital!) might be the most dangerous thing one can do! And guilt because, Why am I comparing my wonderful daughter to some kid (okay, cousin) on the other side of the world? And besides, it’s a race that doesn’t really matter, right?

Come Monday morning, it was clear both your parents were still struggling with those antithetical emotions. We traded ugly gallows-humour jokes over breakfast and wondered what, if anything, we should try doing differently.

You, of course, were happily oblivious to our angst, babbling away when you were full and happy, and grousing or crying when you needed food or a change.

It was Monday afternoon, after a nap, when your mother met me at the top of the stairs. I had just changed your diaper and had you in my arms, intending to go downstairs. Instead all three of us (not that you had any say in the matter) stopped at the top of the stairs near our full-length mirror.

We showed you your and our reflections and then I had the idea of getting down on the floor with you in front of the mirror. Thighs akimbo, I set you down on your bum between them and facing the mirror. Carefully, I let you go, holding my hands close to your shoulders, lest you topple.

And over a 10 or 15 minute period, a minor miracle occurred. You figured out how to sit up. Really. Just like that, you were suddenly capable of holding your head up straight(ish) and of sitting without falling sideways.


Photo of Baobao sitting on a blanket.
“Sitting? What’s the big deal! I could sit all along – I just didn’t want to!”

Needless to say, your mum and I were thrilled. You could sit up on your own, it was possible! We still weren’t in a position to brag about your precociousness, but we no longer needed to worry that there was something wrong with your basic motor skills or potential.

Since then — a whole three days, my darling daughter! — I’ve made a point of getting you to work on sitting, and of pushing you to work on your crawling as well. Placing a favourite toy (that would be either the empty vitamin bottle or the empty prescription bottle, depending on your mood; go figure) a little out of reach when you’re getting what I used to call tummy time in my office seems to be a good method, and you’ve been making progress on that, too. (The video below, on the other hand, proves nothing of the kind!)

That was you after a fairly long session with me in your bedroom my office.

Were we too complacent until Monday? Did our sudden anxiety serve any real purpose? Are your relatively rapid advances since a result of that 10 minutes of mirror time or was that merely a coincidence?

I dunno, honestly, but — and despite Doctor Spock’s advice — I admit to being relieved that we seem to have you moving at a slightly faster pace than you hitherto had been.

If nothing else, it seems that parent-hood is nothing if not what you expect.

Love always,

Your papa, Zesser

P.S. And here’s a video of you really working on your crawling! Forgive Papa his joke, above!

And this was a little earlier today, before you got fed up. Note that bum and leg motion: Houston, we have … well, we’ve got some motion, anyway!

Hey there! Since you’re reading my daughter’s correspondence, why not …

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