I went to Gatlin’s Valentine’s party at daycare today. 15 screaming toddlers armed with glue sticks and heart-shaped stickers… it was pandemonium and I was sweating profusely. Also, I think it should be noted that I actually patted myself on the back for not only getting Gatlin cards to hand out, but also taping some bubbles to them. That’s what one whirl around the Target dollar section will get ya. Imagine my surprise when the other kids showed up with full blown goodie bags and handmade cards. Turns out I’m playing t-ball and there are moms out there in the freaking major leagues. This is completely unrelated to today’s topic, but important nonetheless.
Every time I go to Gatlin’s school, at least one mom stops me to comment on his speech. They always tell me how advanced he is for his age, and how easy it must be for me at home because he can communicate. That last part almost always elicits loud, sarcastic laughter. If they only knew. Easy? Raising my kid is like trying to give a cat a bath. Blindfolded. In the dark. And everything is on fire. This did get me thinking, however, about milestones, development, and parenting in general. And I came to the realization that I hate the word “normal.” Everybody always wants to define the word, and then ensure that their child is that. In my mind, “within normal limits (WNL)” makes so much more sense. We use this phrase in nursing to describe how a particular body system in an individual is working. Because every human being is unique, it is nearly impossible to quantify or define what “normal” would look like. But WNL gives you room for a whole range of “acceptable”. Basically, there is no need to freak out if things are not exactly uniform in every person or situation. Which is good news, because it very rarely is.
If I’m honest, I don’t always give my boys space to be WNLs. I think most parents probably don’t either. Whether intentionally or not, we tend to see the word NORMAL in big bold letters, and try our damndest to ensure our kids fit the bill. Cue the anxiety- I can feel it in my fingers as I type these words.
Gatlin was slow to crawl. He was slow to walk, put together puzzles, learn colors, and we are no where NEAR potty trained. Like, not even in the arena. Brooks sucks at tummy time. (I can say sucks because he’s my child and I love him to pieces, but tummy time is not his strength.) In fact, his head/arm/trunk muscles are so weak that he is looming ever closer to needing a helmet due to flat head. My point? My kids are not advanced in everything. And I am constantly trying to be okay with that.
Humans are wired to want the best. To have the best kids, to do the best job at raising them, to pick the best schools… so on and so forth. I am not immune; In fact, I am so guilty of this that I have notes in my phone specifically dedicated to my children’s developmental milestones- all the way down to how many ounces of formula Brooks eats per feeding. (I want him to ROCK that growth curve… and he’s currently barely hanging on to the 6th percentile in weight. We’ll get there.) But it just takes one comment from another mom to adjust my focus. My child is killing the speech game. He is articulate and hilarious, and I am so proud of that! Everything else will come with time, and he isn’t any worse for wear. Gatlin didn’t even get teeth until 13 months. Literally not one tooth- but nobody cares about that now. Nobody asks for his dental history at play dates. Why? Because he’s got all his pearly whites now, and the rest doesn’t matter. Same goes for any other child and any other milestone. And I’m almost positive they do not ask you when you learned to write, what your first word was, or how long it took you to tie your own shoes, on your college applications. Food for thought.
What if we, as parents, collectively adopted the belief that we are simply stewards for these young people? Our Heavenly Father already knitted them together perfectly. And I mean that word- perfect. You could not have formed your children better than He did, and you can rest assured that He has already designed every future day of their lives. Wanting what is best for our kids is great- but there is a difference in wanting them to be their best, and wanting them to be THE best. And that brings us back to this: there is room for individuals “within normal limits”- space for good talkers, fast walkers, slow eaters, and the dentally impaired (aka baby Gatlin). Releasing our grasp on “normal” leaves so much room for the fun stuff, like loving our little ones well and enjoying the magic in childhood. And the best part? Chances are when you let go you’ll discover you weren’t the one in charge anyways.
Stewards. We are only stewards.