About a month ago, I arrived at work at the same time as a co-worker, a kindly, yet socially awkward grandmother of two. We walked into the building together, exchanging casual pleasantries about our new school building and the beautiful September weather. As we approached the building, she asked about Caitlin. I told her about some of Caitlin's newest tricks-saying, "uh oh," pretending to read books, and shaking her head yes or no. Despite this impressive array of skills, my indifferent co-worker asked, "Is she walking yet?" Baby C was thirteen months old and yet to take a single unassisted step. "No, not by herself," I replied. "Ohthat'so.k!" my co-worker responded, just a bit too quickly. Do you really think that is o.k., or do you actually think my daughter has a gross motor developmental delay? "Yes, of course it's o.k." I responded, trying to project confidence and annoyance all at once. Thank goodness we finally went through the door and parted ways, ending a potentially obnoxious conversation before it really began.
Truthfully, I worried Caitlin had yet to take independent steps. Isn't thirteen months a little on the late side? Many of my friends' children walked much earlier. My mother often tells me I walked at eleven months (although she probably thinks I could read at eleven months, too). Don't get me wrong, Caitlin walked all over the place while holding furniture, pushing a toy or a small chair, or resting her hand against a wall for support. She could even stand alone, then go from standing to squatting or sitting, and back to standing again. The girl had moves, she just seemed reluctant to show off her moves all by herself. Caitlin approaches most things with caution, therefore I was not surprised by her hesitance to walk independently. I reassured myself that she would walk when she felt ready, however the constant "Is she walking?" line of questioning raised some insecurities. Would Caitlin be content to crawl and cruise forever more?
Sometimes when I feel anxious, I give my anxiety a timeline. I decided not to worry about Caitlin's lack of walking until she turned fourteen months old. In the meantime, I would help my hesitant little one get excited about taking steps. I tried many different tricks-holding out a sippy cup of juice or a snack just out of Caitlin's reach, placing a favorite toy just a few steps ahead, or even letting go of C's hand while we walked around the house. Each time, she stood for a moment, negotiating her next move. And each time, she decided to get down on all fours and crawl. Caitlin is clever: why walk when she could get that piece of cheese or stuffed animal much faster by crawling? As the fourteen month mark approached, I felt my anxiety build slowly.
The week before C's fourteen month "birthday," my husband and I went to Newport for the weekend, leaving C in Nana's care. We returned just in time to witness Caitlin take her first independent steps across Nana's kitchen floor. Her steps were met with huge cheers from all of us lucky enough to witness such a special moment. After three unsteady steps, Caitlin plopped down and crawled away, relieved to find the safety of the nearby floor and get away from us screaming lunatics.
Since that afternoon, Caitlin has taken many more steps, still wobbly, still only three or four at a time. Crawling, or holding the hand of a trusted adult remain her preferred choices. As I watch Caitlin determinedly teeter up our front walkway, I often think back to that early morning conversation at work which led to such anxiety. How could I let somebody raise such feelings of insecurity about my amazing little munchkin? Caitlin does things when she is good and ready. She proceeds with caution. She takes baby steps. As her mother, I know this much is true about my daughter. As her mother, I also know other people's expectations and ideas of "what is normal" are just not very important. Still, this is something I must remind myself of often. Just like my daughter, I'm working on this, taking baby steps.