Sunday, August 01, 2004
All fall down :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
She crawls, pulls herself up, stands up, begins to take a step–and then falls down hard. The cries that follow pierce me. Then the process begins again.
I tell myself I'm used to this. But, then again, I'll never get completely used to it.
My youngest daughter Ally just turned 1, and sometimes I am terrified that she will hurt herself as she learns how to walk. At other times, though, I figure I should just trust that she's doing the right thing-or that I am.
Managing my feelings as my daughter learns how to walk is tricky at best. On my bookshelf, an array of parenting books preach safety and the joy of watching children grow, but also suggest parents contain themselves a little bit when their 1-year-old takes a step, falls, then tries to walk again.
"Try (and it will be hard!) not to make a big deal over those skinned knees and black-and-blue shins, overreaction could discourage further attempts," writes Heidi Murkoff, co-author of the popular book What to Expect the First Year, when we exchange e-mails.
Still, it's never easy to be stoic when you're wincing, cool when every tumble can suggest something much worse. OK, I tell myself, I'll be calm as I redirect my daughter when she pulls over a chair.
Then I wonder:
How can I protect her?
What can I do?
How did she reach those wires?
Within a few short weeks, it seems as though my daughter's legs have become the motor that runs the household. Life swings between the thrill of watching and cheering on this 1-year-old human engine as she swivels her way along to her destination and the anguish of watching her lose her bearings and tumble onto the floor.
Ally has taught me more than anyone else that all of us live life at our own pace. She was born unexpectedly at home one June morning last year, a seemingly mellow baby who spent her first moments nestled in her mother's arms in our family's bathroom. Now, she's approaching the world of walking more cautiously than her older sister did, but she's far too busy exploring to care.
For months, Ally and I enjoyed one of my all-time favorite daily rituals: While I shaved, she played and roamed a little on the bathroom floor and grinned when she caught my eye.
I stepped outside the bathroom, looked right, and didn't see my baby. I looked left, and there was her leg, turning a corner as she crawled under the dining room table.
Sometimes, the question I ask myself is not "Where is she?" but "What have I done?"
Later that same week, while rushing to the telephone, I stepped on one of my daughter's hands as she was crawling around and nearly tripped over her.
I held her and prayed her hand was OK. She was fine, thank God, but I still felt horrible.
Having talked with other parents of young children, I have at least learned that a list of parents who have at one time or another done something careless that they regret would not be an especially small list.
Like our kids, we learn as we go.
I have no doubt that parenting very young children has altered my perspective. These days, I can't even eat dinner in a restaurant with my wife without doing a bit of baby-proofing. Great food, I think, but the corners on those tables are way too sharp.
One Chicago pediatrician with three young kids of his own mused about how the new mobility of a child can be a nerve-wracking experience for parents.
"Anyone with a healthy sense of the world would recognize that very young children are very vulnerable," says Dr. Kyran Quinlan, a pediatrician at the University of Chicago Children's Hospital. He's also an injury prevention specialist who is active in the Chicagoland chapter of The National Safe Kids Campaign.
"Yes, parents can go overboard with being neurotic about safety, but it's a healthy instinct. You want to see this little one get older," he says soothingly.
Though it's easy to go overboard, it can also be a relief to know that trustworthy information about safety may be readily accessible because of the Internet and growing awareness about child safety in recent years.
I've learned that I'll feel better about my daughter's first steps-and other aspects of her development-if I keep an eye on current child safety issues. At first, this seemed like a daunting task, but in some cases it takes only a minute or two-and a few short clicks-to get the answer if one weighs information on Web sites of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, www.cpsc.gov, American Association of Pediatrics, www.aap.org, or The National Safe Kids Campaign, www.safekids.org.
Meanwhile, I'm watching my daughter gain more confidence every day, and have learned that she's not losing her way when she falls-she's finding it.
Murkoff even suggests there's something larger at play than the path in front of our kids when we watch them struggle to take their first steps.
"Walking represents the first step, so to speak, in a separation process that will lead one day-sooner than you think-to your dropping off your child at college," she writes. "No wonder it's so momentous, exciting, life-changing and traumatic on both sides."
I'll take her at her word. For the moment, though, my immediate focus is on being a dad who takes life one step–or fall–at a time.
Dan Baron is a Chicago writer. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.