Thursday, July 7, 2011

Miracle Milestones

Why do adults always say to children, "Look how big you've gotten?" I hear myself saying it all the time to my friends' kids and my nieces. It's obnoxious, but unavoidable. Here's why I think we do it. Once we ourselves have stopped physcially growing bigger, and reached an age where we don't really feel ourselves getting older or changing with much rapidity, the dramatic growth and development of childhood seems outrageous, unbelievable. Being in stasis ourselves, we expect the children around us to stay the size they were when we first saw them.

Imagine, therefore, what it's like for a mom, who has tracked her child from non-being into being. Who first began measuring them in inches and ounces. Who remembers them once being so dependent they fed off our bodies from the inside, and then the outside. It's a breath-taking, mind boggling, daily miracle watching them move from total dependence to autonomy -- a truth that happens gradually and then occasionally dawns on us like a smack in the face. My dear friend and neighbor, whose baby is turning 13 this month and celebrating his Bar Mitzvah, keeps making me look at how much hair her son has on his legs. She just can't get over it.

I anticipate and prepare myself for the big milestones: first solids, first steps, first day of school. But some of the small milestones sneak up on me. On Monday, I took Livie (formerly the Delicate Chicken) to the community pool, for the first time since she completed 10 days of swimming lessons. Together we discovered that she can stand up -- or "touch" as kids everywhere call it -- in the shallow end of the big pool.

Gasp. My -- sniff -- baby, can stand up in the big pool. I don't know why this shocks me. She is about 40 inches tall, off the charts in height for a not-quite four year old, so of course she can stand in the 3-foot section. On second thought, I do know why it shocks me. A month ago, after much coaxing, she'd enter the "big kid" pool only if she could cling to me like a baby possum: belly to belly, limbs wrapped around me. My goal was to be able to hold her at arms length by the end of the summer without shrieking (her or me). Getting her toes to the bottom seemed as far as the ocean floor: an insurmountable distance.

Now -- all hail the Woodbridge Village Association's extremely cheap "water exploration" swimming lessons -- Liv can crab walk the perimeter of the pool, climb in and out the side, dunk her head under, jump to me from the side, and is brave enough to stand in three feet of water all by her little skinny self.

So the abrupt change is both beautiful and heartbreaking. You moms know exactly what I'm talking about. Standing on dry land watching her bob up and down alone, I witnessed the beginning of the end. The end of dependence on me, the end of early childhood.

Sometimes I'm really grateful I discovered blogging, because without it, I wouldn't be commemorating this small moment, which at this moment, feels big, and perhaps have forgotten it. But now I will remember. I celebrate Livie's accomplishment in writing. And one day when she calls me to say -- sniff -- that her baby climbed her first tree or took her first steps or went down the stairs all by herself without falling, I'll send her a copy of this and say, "Baby girl, I know exactly how you feel."

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