A rodent and unusual size
This morning at the library Charlie played with — and by "played with" I mean "hit on the head with a puzzle" — a boy who was a great deal smaller than he is, but standing and walking with no difficulty. Because we were both near our children, tensed to spring if the need arose, I talked a bit with his mother.
Although I was tempted, I did not open the conversation by saying, "Hey, I was just wondering if you knew that when you were sitting down a few minutes ago, you were showing about eighteen inches of butt crack." No, instead I played it safe, employing a gambit that is absolutely unexceptionable: "Aw, how old's your boy? He's adorable."
No, wait, I take it back: in these parts, that gambit can actually be kind of risky. I cannot tell you how many times I've mistaken a boy for a girl and vice versa. I can't help it. They all have long hair, they all have names like Jordan, and they all wear denim overalls. And so do their parents, but I can tell the men from the women more easily, as the fathers seldom unfasten their overall galluses to nurse.
"Aw, how old's your boy?" I asked, committing myself fearlessly, having heard the child's mother call him Owen. "He's adorable," I said, perjuring myself shamefully, as Owen was pale and the slightest bit rodentlike, if rodents had long hair and ever wore overalls.
"Ten months," she answered, as we watched Owen walk confidently to the train table. So steady was the boy, so sure in his movements and so secure in his equilibrium that I briefly considered tripping him so that I could enjoy the matchless grace with which he would immediately recover.
(Oh, dear God, no, I did not. Hyperbole. L'esprit de l'escalier. And pure simmering envy, okay?)
And then, of course, as we watched Charlie crawl purposefully toward the puzzle hoping for another satisfying round of Whack-a-Mole, as he pulled himself to standing with a great show of effort, as he did not walk or even stand unsupported, she asked Charlie's age, and I told her.
I was flustered, I think; normally in such situations, when Charlie is being outperformed by someone younger than even his adjusted age, I say he was born in February. Then it is assumed that he is not significantly behind but merely freakishly large. However, when someone remarks on Charlie's size, which is respectable even for two-year-olds, I am careful to give his actual age. This time I got mixed up. Yeah, yeah, yeah, tangled web, I know. I know. Almost sixteen months, I said, giving his actual age.
She looked surprised, but didn't say anything. For once I didn't explain, as I do altogether too often. I was too freaked out to try.
Every day, Charlie does something new worth celebrating. I applaud his progress with amazement. It's not that I'm amazed that he's come so far given the start he had; it's more basic than that. I'm amazed in the same way any mother is, that I am making this, this body and brain that are working in such wondrous concert. And that's how I primarily see him — as an individual unfolding at a pace that is natural for him — and how I see myself — as a mother of simply a growing child.
But then I have these moments, almost always in the company of younger children, when I succumb. I compare. I measure his accomplishments against the larger standard, and Charlie is often found wanting. It concerns me only minimally when he's behind for his actual age; that's to be expected and should be resolved by an eventual catch-up. But what does it mean when he's behind or at the slow end of normal for his adjusted age? How can a boy catch up if he's not progressing fast?
Every time I express a fear that Charlie will prove to have a significant developmental delay, a well-meaning someone tells me, "Oh, don't worry. My son didn't walk until he was 18 months!" Or, "My daughter is 4 and she still won't wave bye-bye." And I appreciate those attempts to reassure me and remind me that every child is indeed an individual with his own developmental pattern. But I can't be completely soothed, not when his pediatrician asks a long series of questions — Does he walk? No. Does he stand? No. Does he wave? No. Does he point? No. Does he show you objects? No. Does he obey simple requests? No, and it pisses me off because there's no way I'm getting off the sofa to go get a fresh beer — and then says thoughtfully, "Yes, I think you should keep that follow-up appointment with the developmental specialist."
When I'm bathing Charlie, I rub my hands together briskly to lather up the baby wash. He looks at my hands, white with suds, and carefully announces, "Buh. Bul." And then the next day, he spills milk on his hands, looks at the white fluid there, and just as carefully announces, "Buh. Bul." White. Hands. Bubbles. Close enough. I am proud. He's fine. He's more than fine. He's wondrous.
But the fear I've nursed since the day he was born keeps surfacing, like today at the library, like two weeks ago with his doctor. How can I modulate this concern into something useful instead of something that will wake me up at night breathing hard?
How can I not freak out when a ten-month-old scampers and Charlie, half a year older, can't stand?