This past Sunday we went out for my friend Judith’s birthday. She just happened to be holding Penelope when the cake came out, and then this happened:
We really didn’t see this coming. It happened so fast and was not encouraged in any way. She just saw the cake, face-planted, and loved it so much she started eating it like corn on the cob. The kid was unstoppable.
What happened here is what I call a “milestone”. Crawling? Walking? Feeding herself? Pffffffffffffft. Who needs any of that crap? She’s perfected the hands-free face-plant into a cake well before her first birthday. I didn’t even get to show her how to do it, either; she just followed her instincts and knew, which makes me so proud of her, it actually brings a tear to my eye.
As a mother I can only hope that she keeps this gusto for life and is never afraid to plunge head-first, to not care if things get messy, or if she gets cake in her hair, gets caught in the rain, or ruins her shoes. It is my duty to protect this piece of her personality, the one that makes her go for what she wants with total confidence and abandon. Not reckless abandon, but abandon no less. Just look at her go! And she doesn’t even give a shit about our reactions! Mama wants some of that, and I don’t mean the cake. Mama’s taking notes. These are the things that matter in life.
Because here’s what I think of traditional milestones: fuck them.
Oh, they almost made me crazy in the very beginning. I kept hearing people say that babies almost always roll from their front onto their back first, and that it is harder for them to go from back to front. Penelope went from back to front first, but took so much longer to go from front to back.
It seems she’s always doing things in reverse or non-traditionally, even from the start, so this really is not alarming. But when you are a brand new mom just getting your footing, this stuff can make you crazy – if you let it.
And then there’s the people who say things. No, not the innocent stuff you talk about with your girlfriends, and not the fun stuff you share with your family. You know what I mean. It’s this kind of stuff:
“Oh, my so-and-so was already walking by then!”
“Baby Margaret was feeding herself already at this age!”
“Baby so-and-so did our taxes this year!”
Woopty-freaking-do, proud parent. My baby will do that when she’s good and ready. There is no rush. It’s not a race. This is not the Olympics, people.
Looking up developmental milestones online is the equivalent of Web MD’ing yourself when you have a headache, and it’s safe to say that no new mom should do it. Is your pediatrician happy at your baby’s checkups? Do you see progress with your baby? Good. Give yourself full permission to disregard any comments like the ones above and remind yourself that no one’s counting.
We can also remind ourselves that things like this do not need to be disclosed on resumes or college applications. “Yes dear, you’ll need to fill in your social security number here, date of birth there, and let’s see…oh yes, check here if you rolled over before six months, and there if you did it after. Unless you started walking before your first birthday. In that case, you can skip this entire silly process and move right into the Harvard dorms!”
I’m excited about everything I want to teach Penelope, but, at the same time, so pumped about what she is teaching me. She is teaching me that it’s OK to eat the damn cake. That, sure, you can make memories when you are perfectly put together and things go as planned, but you can make even BETTER memories with cake on your forehead. And that no one will get mad if you dive head first into life. And she can teach me all of this without hitting traditional “milestones”.
So let’s make new milestones.
A milestone is the first time you trust your instincts as a parent. The first time you realize that you are your child’s only mother, which means it’s OK to smile, nod, and then disregard the “advice” coming from someone you love when it doesn’t feel right to you. The milestone is marked when you acknowledge that you can still love this person while disagreeing and honoring your own decisions.
A milestone is when your baby grabs that overpriced floral arrangement in Whole Foods and throws it to the floor in a fury, shattering the vase into a million pieces because apparently, she also thought it was ludicrous that they wanted $20 for that little thing. (This milestone is two-fold: YAY! She can grab things! And also, she is a smart shopper.)
A milestone is the first time you successfully suppress the urge to send that woman at Target who wedged her way in between you and your stroller and then called your daughter a cute “little boy” flying through the air and crashing into rows of displays.
A milestone is the first belly laugh she has. The first hug she gives. Squeals of pure happiness while splashing in the bathtub. Recognizing, and laughing at, her family on FaceTime.
A milestone is knowing when to step away from the computer before going crazy while researching schedules: feeding schedules, sleeping schedules, and of course, freaking milestones. No, it isn’t the Olympics. But if you can stop yourself from getting caught up in “milestone fever”, and enjoy each and every moment without stressing about it all, give yourself a Gold medal.
*If you feel similar about milestones, here is a great article about being confident in letting your child do things when he or she is ready: “Don’t Stand Me Up”