While strolling through this garden we call parenthood I have become even more awed by nature and its incredible order tucked in amongst some serious chaos. I’m not talking about the whole birth and development of life thing, though that is wonder-worthy. I’m talking about the way that nature has of preparing parents for what’s coming next in their child’s development. It seems from the moment of conception we are given this live action tutorial through which we can sharpen our skills and, more importantly, acclimate to the next stage of forehead-slapping madness that is on the horizon.
I first started paying attention to the grand tutorial when Bug was just mastering the fine art of rolling herself over. She’d be lying on her back, discovering her toes when, as if by some divine assist, she would find herself on her belly. Her expressions went quickly from confounded to amused to “Sweet! I am WAY closer to that duck thing that sounds like a birthing moose when I squeeze it” (she’s always had a real knack for animal kingdom gestational noise identification – we’re understandably proud). Not really knowing how such a miracle of movement had happened, she would fluster herself in and out of those positions repeatedly until she grasped that it was she that was making it happen. After banging her head on various things twenty to thirty thousand times, she had it cold.
Soon these little experiments of hers culminated in her rolling like a horizontal Dervish, which then gave way to the belly scoot, then the backward crawl, then the forward crawl, then pulling herself up to standing and on and on until she became the fastest bipedal four year old on the planet that she is today (I have the notarized papers to prove it). It was in watching these skills develop that I began to understand how the order and the pacing were teaching tools for us doting parental types. Just as the child slowly moves through their stages of development, the parent slowly familiarizes himself with his new perpetual motion machine. Nature doesn’t throw a running baby at new parents for good reason – their head would explode within five weeks. Parents of newborns have enough to become accustomed to without wondering how their little miracle got on top of the fridge. We are given babies that only eat, poop and sleep because that is all we can handle at first.
That isn’t to minimize the difficulty of having a newborn. Lord knows ‘easy’ isn’t one of the words I would choose to describe that phase. ‘Masochistic’ and ‘terrifying’ more readily pop into mind. But having an ambulatory child is a whole different ballgame, one for which a new parent is wholly unprepared. The thing is we’re all totally unprepared for what hasn’t happened yet. Remember when you and your partner were pregnant with your first child and every single member of the human race had a tidbit of advice for you or an anecdote about what it was going to be like? Remember also how when said child was born you realized that you hadn’t had any idea what everyone was talking about until RIGHT THEN? That’s what I’m talking about.
So, watching Bug roll around on the floor was when I recognized the beauty in nature’s plan. As she rolled I considered the future. She wasn’t going to roll a couple of times, pop to her feet and ask for the car keys. She was going to go through a long process of learning how to move which was going to give me the chance to adjust to the current stage and prepare for the next. By the time she was crawling, I had an understanding of how to keep her safe and entertained. By the time she was walking, I knew where the dangers were and what her next move might be. The tutorial was simple, but it was genius.
As my younger daughter is nearly three now, I have had many opportunities to watch the tutorial play out and have seen how it also works when the behaviors become more complex. My girls are communicative, interactive little beings now that are constantly pushing their boundaries and experimenting with social standards, but as long as I am paying attention I know that I can apply the lessons so aptly taught to me and successfully navigate the foreshadowed, if uncharted, waters ahead.
Trouble is, now I’ve started to know when something big is lurking. Both of my girls have been good nappers for a while – it’s been a breather in the middle of the day that I can usually count on to give me a chance to recalibrate and accomplish tasks unfettered. The rare occasions that I am not afforded a little quiet time have often resulted in some challenging evenings (read: I have shopped the house for the bluntest instrument available with which to bash my own skull). Lamentably, Bug is now starting to forsake her naps regularly. She is four years old now and I figure that is the natural progression of things, but I shudder to think of what the parenting tutorial is preparing me for now. What could this possibly be teaching me? Am I getting too much free time? Does she feel as though she’s being short changed on her waking opportunities to ask me “why?” about everything sunlight has ever touched? You mean to tell me that pretty soon they are both going to be awake with me all the time? I mean, I love my kids, but that’s got to be unconstitutional or something, right? RIGHT?!?!
Clearly, I’m not ready for the teenage years.