Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Milestones, not Millstones

It seems like my life as a parent has mini-seasons that have nothing to do with the weather.  May was about travel and June was about processing and starting our summer.  July has been all about milestones.

Has any modern parent not come to dread that word?  Somewhere between the second and third trimesters with Bean I realized I better not purchase What To Expect in the First Year or I would go nuts.  It didn't matter though because at every well child visit from about six months on, I sat in the waiting room of my pediatrician's office and filled out a milestone questionnaire, sometimes blithely checking off the expected Yes or No, and sometimes filling out qualifying mom-notes in the margins.  I wasn't sure if our first pediatrician even read the forms.

I remember when I filled out a form for Boo sometime in the first year and said No, he wasn't rolling over.  When I asked our current pediatrician if he was concerned about that, he said, "No, that's just one of those things we have to ask, but I always say that I'm only concerned if a kid sees a hill and doesn't immediately want to roll down it."  So Kid Doc admitted that milestones are relative, not meant to be a millstone on our parental necks.  At some point, some of the milestones become non-negotiable and something to sweat.  Or an accumulation of missed milestones hints or screams at trouble.  We are very fortunate that all of our kids' missed milestones have fallen well within the zone of relative normal.

Our health care provider has the well child forms online now, so (slightly) Type A parents like myself can worry ahead of time, er, I mean, be prepared.  If July had not become Milestone Month around here, I might not be able to check off Yes, is potty-trained, when Boo has his Three Year well child check up in October.  It would have meant nothing other than his moms hadn't gotten around to it yet and had become well-versed with this second kid in knowing which developmental stuff to sweat and which stuff we just don't want to deal with.  Months of wet pants and pee on the floors was pretty high on the second list.  I figured if we waited, I could sit down and have a nice little chat with Boo and let him know what the new, diaper-free program would be and maybe, in my wildest dreams, that would be that.

We've been introducing him to the idea since he was about 18 months, but as far as he was concerned, the underwear was for extra warmth on top of his diaper and the Elmo potty chair was a far better place to store toys than bodily excretions.  For a long time, I knew that if I pushed it, potty training would be a whole lot of work for me and a whole lot of stress for both of us.  Boo wasn't insisting, as Bean did at barely 2, that he would no longer wear diapers and we weren't planning to start nursery school anytime soon, so I just left it.  Sometime in the spring he started to seem more interested and aware, but we were about to start our travel season and knew he'd be having his tonsils out during the summer.  As soon as we had the mid-June surgery date set, I decided that June 30 would be the last day for diapers and July 1 would be the start of underwear.

I started an informal count down with Boo, letting him know in advance that he'd be saying goodbye to diapers in two weeks, a week, on Friday.  (Apparently, I forgot to send the same memo to Dr. Yap - oops.) When the day came, I followed my plan, had a nice chat with Boo, and proceeded to put on and change about 10 pairs of nice thick, soaking wet training underwear throughout the day.  We continued on for two weeks, with more wet underwear than success and had yet to reach the point that Boo trundled off to the bathroom of his own volition when he and Dr. Yap were looking at the Toys R Us circular from the Sunday paper.  A set of trains from a popular TV show (not Thomas, the other show about trains) was on sale, buy 2 get 1 free.  Instead of saying no, Dr. Yap said lets go take a look.  I gave her one of my raised-eyebrow what are you up to partner looks, which she pointedly ignored.  I followed my better instincts and ignored the parent-child interaction on the other side of the breakfast table right back.

That afternoon, Boo picked several multiples of three trains and Dr. Yap told him when he peed in the toilet instead of his pants, he could have one.  That's right, outright bribery of the kind we've been taught to avoid if we want a well-adjusted, unspoiled, productive adult on our hands in 15 or so years.  I made a rare showing of good judgement and for the second time that day, I said nothing about the negotiations between Dr. Yap and Boo.  What do you know, about 15 trains later, we have toilet training success.  If there is any behavioral fallout from this one, you'll have to talk to Dr. Yap.  I didn't know any of this was happening after all.

On the other end of our age spectrum, Bean has been working on her own milestone, in her own way.  Two months after her 8th birthday, she has mastered peddling and steering a bike with training wheels.  I remember penciling in a qualifying reason why she had missed this milestone when it showed up on the 5-year well child form: we hadn't really encouraged it because our driveway was a little steep and our road a little curvy.  Since Bean was two we'd tried introducing tricycles and small bikes with training wheels, all of which she outgrew without mastering either pedaling or steering.  She would show sudden bursts of interest, followed by a frustrating attempts to pedal and steer herself down a few feet of sidewalk in front of our house.  After a day or two, she would give up and move on.  We usually let it go, a little bewildered that she just didn't seem to be catching on.

Maybe there are specific developmental reasons why riding a bike has been difficult for Bean, or maybe her milestone is on a different timeline.  Whatever the reason, the three of us understood without discussion that she could happily get through childhood without this skill.  Then she decided she wanted a skateboard this spring.  After all, she reasoned, a skateboard is like a balance beam on wheels and she has pretty good balance.  We didn't say anything to her, but thought learning how to skateboard might be her gateway back to a bike.  She quickly decided that skateboarding was harder than it looked and set it aside to practice her long-abandonded scooter.

With very little practice and no provocation from us, Bean became a scootering pro, an "expert scooterist" as she put it.  She is using a three-wheeled scooter that sits low to the ground which means balance is no longer an issue.  It seems that not having to worry about balance or pedaling isolated the mechanics of steering and allowed her to master that piece of the equation.  After a few months of scootering back and forth to the park and around the basketball courts every day, she announced that she was ready to try a bike with training wheels.  A few weeks ago, we hunted down a 20 inch bike with no gears, a rear-wheel hand brake and training wheels.

In the beginning, pedaling was as frustrating as it had ever been for her, but it was clear that she had a handle on steering.  We walked beside her, putting a hand on the foot that needed to push down and helping her push the right way.  This helped, but she still struggled with figuring out how to get her feet started if we weren't using our hands.  Dr. Yap told her to push down whichever foot was up and that seemed to click.  After about 15 minutes of practicing she was able to steer and pedal herself to the park a few blocks away.  The next day, she repeated the feat, with only a few reminders about how to get her feet going properly.

Bike riding went so well, I'm ready to dust off the idea of swimming lessons for her again.  Then again, maybe she knows more than we do about her milestones and her internal timetable.  As for Boo, I'll take a questionable parenting tactic over pee-saturated clothes and floors any day.

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