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09/03/2005

The scarlet letter

Brand our baby with a big red A: Charlie, you see, is average.

Superachiever that I've always been, I'd never have believed it if someone had predicted that one day I'd thrill to hear a professional describe my child as average. I was always pretty sure that calling someone average was just a nice way of saying he's mediocre, and not really a nice way, at that.

But here I am, elated that our boy is mediocre. Average! I have been warbling that word happily since Monday afternoon. "How are you?" my mother asks on the phone. "Average!" I carol. "Our records show that you haven't yet mailed in your property taxes," accuses a gravelly voice calling from City Hall. "Average!" I yodel, apologetic but unbowed. "You left your purse on top of your car!" a well-meaning youth shouts as I peel out of the grocery store parking lot. "Average!" I answer gaily, waving as I leave in my wake a litter of credit cards and lipsticks.

That day, the developmental specialist put him through his paces. For a baby of Charlie's age, that involves things like watching how he plays with a tiny wooden cube, or ringing a bell off to his side and observing what he does. ("He's teething," I warned the doctor, "so if he drools don't think we've been getting all Pavlov on his ass.")

For the record, he immediately crams the tiny wooden block into his mouth; when handed additional blocks, he tries quite valiantly to fit those in, too, until it looks like he's dismembered and devoured a Rubik's Cube. And when he hears a ringing sound, he triangulates its source by looking to the side and then down instead of taking the more direct diagonal route. When he's shown a new toy, does he look to me for guidance as to how he should react? (No.) Does he show me the thing he's just picked up? (Nuh-uh.) If both hands are full, does he understand he has to drop an item in order to pick up another, or is he still goofy enough to bash the old item angrily against the new, frustrated that it just isn't working? (Goofy and hilarious.)

All of this means something. In Charlie's case, it means that he's exactly where he should be for now: fiftieth percentile for a 7-month-old in every evaluated area. And I am simply ecstatic.

Of course, because he's still behind his actual age, he's got a long way to go before he's as accomplished as everyone else in the household. But I can wait. After all, even someone who's below average can grow up to be president one day. Right?

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