Every parent is anxious about two important milestones for their children. When the child will start walking and when the child will start speaking. Usually, if the children are asked to describe about their parents the things they mention are “My father taught me to walk and my mom taught me to talk”. These two milestones are indeed very important for all children and parents alike.
Usual conversation of parents who have children of about age 1 starts with a simple open ended but highly evolved question “What all does your child do?” and then the enthusiastic parents get into an evolved discussions and descriptions about what and how the child does it. The discussions go into whether the child puts the left foot up first or the right one. Whether he pushes himself up by stretching leg or pulling their hand or how many steps can he take without sitting down once…
The parents whose child has not started walking yet get paranoid. Then all sorts of theories crop up. One of the most popular theories is girls are faster than guys hence girls start walking earlier than guys of similar age. (An empirical evidence of children around me suggest that there are no contradictions to this theory but I have a great suspicion that this theory is propagated by all the mothers to sow the seeds that the fairer sex is far superior to the unfair sex! ) Once the parents who have a son, hear this then they get even more tense. Almost all the parents I know of refer to babycenter. That I must say is a hell of child of progress tracker. It almost feels like they have some hidden camera in the house and someone is watching what your child is doing and sending to you as a mail. But even babycenter does not come to your rescue if your child refuses to walk. Parents get all sorts of toys, walkers and encourage the child to walk. They keep the children’s favorite toys on the table so that he has to necessarily walk to get them. But children are a smarter race. Soon they figure out that they can crawl upto the table stand up get the toy and crawl back. The child just does not see logic in using just 2 legs when the same thing can be accomplished much faster by using 2 hands and 2 legs. So they defy all the attempts made by their parents to make them walk. This impasse continues till one day, the child thinks to himself…hey, I am not a baby anymore, let me walk now…and starts walking.
The same thing happens to parents if their child does not speak. Actually that drives parents even crazier. The most paranoid lot visits the doctors for hearing test. I really wonder why these parents start from worst possible assumption. Also, there is this implicit assumption that the doctor will know about child better than us. But still they do it. Again from my limited, empirical sample I found that children who have a very regimented schedule start speaking much later. Children are far smarter than we think; they get everything they want without speaking, so why speak? The children with elder brother or sister learn to speak much faster. They have a sense of competition ever since they are born. Talking themselves out is probably a necessity in overcoming the competition. I can’t figure out exactly but there is a strong correlation between time spent with grandparents and ability to speak or vocabulary. (No No I am not suggesting grandparents talk a lot) I have seen some children who have started speaking as late as year III and I have seen how their parents were paranoid about that.
What these parents don’t get is: Walking and Talking are the biggest bargaining tools that children posses. Children are much easier to deal with and manage when they cannot speak or walk. Their individuality (which some skeptical parents describe as “true colors”) come to forefront when they start walking and talking. Once they start walking you realize that the children had always wanted to go in a direction different than yours and they were unable to do so because they were in the pram. A more persuasive child would pull you in that direction while an evasive child would just start walking towards the other direction and expect you to follow. The parents would realize the all the one-sided consensus based relationship they were enjoying so far was on a thin ice. Child always had a different opinion, it’s just that he or she did not have enough skills to express it.
A great side effect of this phenomenon can be seen on the physique of the parents. Parents suddenly start getting in shape. The physical demands of parenthood are such that you might have to take off in an unspecified direction with split second notice just to ensure the child is in the line of the sight. The parents need to adjust their center of gravity in order not to lose control in such a demanding situation. They also need to work on their maneuvering skills by sharpening their ability to take sharp turns. I have always noticed that the stress levels in parents shoot up when the child stands on his feet, literally.
The situation gets worse when child starts speaking. Things are much easier to manage when the child is just blabbering. Human mind is designed for wishful thinking. So parents tend to interpret the seemingly meaningless blabbering in the way that is convenient to them. A blabbering child is the child of their dreams that always seem to agree with them or say things that they wanted to hear. The scene completely changes when the child starts speaking. All “yes” becomes “No” and vice versa.
I realized this when I was confronted my child when I least expected it. I used to tickle my child in a certain way, he would laugh a lot and make a lot of blabbering sound which I used to interpret as “I want more, Papa don’t stop”. I could also see certain excitement in his eyes and go on and on and my child would laugh his heart out. The fact of the matter was I used to enjoy that game perhaps more than him. When I tried the same game he could speak I was in for a shock. My child told me “Papa, don’t do it. I don’t like it” My interpretation of his blabbering and reading of eyes was all in vein, the reality was completely different.
A Speaking child is very powerful. He is able to communicate his likes-dislikes and stop his parents from doing unwanted things just by saying a few words. All parents have this innermost desire to be better parents than their own parents. No matter how well they were raised, they always remember the mistakes that their parents did and vow to themselves not to repeat them for their own children. (My empirical evidence suggests that most of the parents are successful in avoiding mistakes that their parents did but land up making newer mistakes which their children must correct in the due course. ) All parents want to be fair to their children and don’t want force them to do anything that is they don’t want to. They are happy with their performance as their parents and are secretly patting their backs till the child opens his mouth and starts speaking. First signs of cracks in their parenting start appearing when the child starts speaking.
My biggest learning from the parenthood is each parent must learn to enjoy, savor, relish, appreciate, take pleasure in, value and be delighted with the period of time when the child is not talking or walking. Every parenting book, website, doctors mentions that each child is unique. Still we parents try to compare them and make them fit into the same imaginary mould that is either designed by conventional wisdom or some child progress benchmarks or babycenter.com. We forget the joy of parenting. We are pushing our little ones into the competition zone mercilessly even they can barely walk or speak.
Fellow parents, that is the most enjoyable part of the parenthood. Go ahead and convince yourself that the child wanted to go exactly in the same direction as you turned the pram. If the child is not speaking or walking when the babycenter expects it, don’t worry. One day nature would take over and things will be alright. Till then don’t have doubt whatsoever in interpreting the blabbering in the way you want. Because, once the child starts speaking and walking things are just going to go downhill.