A few weeks ago, we went to Benihana for dinner on a rainy Sunday night when Nick and I were both too tired to cook. Daisy had just undergone her (hopefully) last hip surgery that Friday and she was in a new cast, uncomfortable and antsy. Ella was cranky too. I wasn’t surprised when the host finally seated us at a hibachi table that was squished into a corner and empty save another family with a small child.
The other family (a mom, a dad, a young son and a grandmother) were sweet: you could tell just by watching them interact with each other and with their son that their worlds revolve around him. They took turns picking him up out of his high chair and carrying him around the restaurant, bouncing and cooing in his ear to try to manage his antsy behavior in a way that only parents of a toddler can understand. We exchanged knowing looks and quiet smiles across the table as our chef set onion rings on fire and chopped meat maniacally.
At the end of the meal, the mother leaned across the grill and asked me how old Daisy was. When I answered, her face fell. She explained that she had observed how talkative Daisy is and that she was worried her son, who was not much younger, was not verbal. When she asked me how old Daisy was when she started to speak, I lied without hesitation. (Most of you reading this probably know that I never lie. I hate lying. Dishonesty is quite possibly the character defect I despise most.) In this instance, I immediately saw deep concern in her eyes and felt it was my responsibility to tell a small white lie to protect this mom from herself and from the dangerous trap of comparison.
For the modern-day mother, social media has made it virtually impossible to escape comparison. There are more than a dozen mobile apps designed specifically to take a photo of your child and surround them with lists of things they’ve accomplished and milestones they’ve reached. My Facebook and Instagram feeds are full of such photos (which I love, by the way!). There are hashtags that group children together based on their age “#thisisfour” which inherently line them up, side-by-side, for some sort of judgment. Amazon Prime is constantly suggesting new books for me on how to parent or what to expect at each age. I have carefully resisted filling my shelves with such books because I know myself – the parents and pediatricians and psychologists who write these books have great intentions, but they will make me crazy. I am determined to let Daisy develop and unfold on her own timeline – and I committed to following her lead long ago.
The truth is that yes, Daisy speaks in full, long sentences and has been doing so for some time, but, it’s important to note that her circumstances have been altered by things like not being able to walk for months at a time. While other kids were learning to climb on the jungle gym, Daisy was confined to a special chair with nothing to focus on but being able to speak. She needed to learn to communicate sooner than most children because she was less independent – she needed to be able to tell us when she was in pain or wanted a new toy because she couldn’t take care of those things herself. So yes, in comparison, Daisy is more verbal than others her age, but that doesn’t mean anyone is necessarily “behind”.
I could see that this mother was terrified her son might not talk. I wanted to envelop her in a huge hug then look her in the eyes and say “You are doing great. He is wonderful. He will speak when he is ready and if he doesn’t, that is okay too. Bravo and breathe, mama”. Since I couldn’t do that, having just met her, I bluffed about the timeline of Daisy’s speech. I didn’t want her walking away from dinner thinking “that child started speaking on X date so my son should too and if he doesn’t I’m a failure/he’s a failure”. I wanted her to trust her instincts, be proud of her parenting and find peace in knowing that her child’s life will unfold as it should.
Later in conversation that evening, Nick uncharacteristically mentioned this blog and she subscribed, so, hopefully she reads this. To her, and to all the moms worrying if your child is meeting milestones, I encourage you to set aside the yardstick and the guidebook. You are doing great and so is your little one. 🖤