Until she did. And when she did, it was as if she’d been doing it for weeks. She just pulled one knee forward and popped the other one up, then stretched those arms out and off she went.
Of course, her mother and I were thrilled. We cheered and clapped and our beautiful girl, demonstrating her mobility on our king-size bed, looked up in stunned delight at our show of excitement. That wide grin of hers filled her face and then she took off once more, scurrying across the bed in a fit of inspired locomotion.
Well, it’s a whole new ballgame now.
As thrilling as it is to see our baby girl enter into this new stage of life development, nearly everything has changed (again). Except for when she’s sleeping, there’s no unsupervised time. When she plays, she needs constant attention, not to mention regular redirection. We’ve plugged up the outlets, but we still need to put locks on cabinets and anchor shelves. Not to mention watching for any number of the miniscule pieces of detritus that litter the floor and beckon for her attention, which often takes the form of a taste-test. And, just as she spent weeks preparing to crawl, she’s now preparing to stand and walk. She will grab anything just above her head and use it to pull up, testing the pressure strength in her feet and legs long enough to try out this new thing called balance. She’s used bookshelves, dressers, and her reclining daddy to try pulling herself up.
Developmental psychologist Erik Erikson described the second major phase of child development as one of autonomy. The first stage is learning to trust one’s caregivers. I’d like to think our little girl knows that her mother and I are trustworthy, and I’m pretty sure her sudden will to explore the world on her own bears this out. When she goes hustling away from me in the den and I have to reach over and grab her before gets out of my reach, she will quickly express her displeasure, following with a renewed endeavor to venture back in the direction I have just denied her. When we confine her to her playpen, she is rarely happy about this, no matter which of her favorite toys join her. She is on the go, and she does not want to be stopped.
It is a common theme of parents to mourn and bemoan children leaving them, just as it is a common theme of maturing children to yearn for the freedom from their parents’ shelter. Last week I listened again to the Dixie Chicks’ “Wide Open Spaces” (totally took me back to college…) and thought about what it will be like for my beautiful little girl to grow up and leave home. But I don’t have to wait seventeen years for that. Truth is, they start leaving before they’re a year old.
I don’t mean to be dramatic. Clearly, our baby isn’t trying to leave us behind completely. As often as her crawling propels her away from me, it brings her tumbling over my ankles and into my lap. She has learned to give hugs, wrapping her arms around my neck when I gather her up. But she has developed the motor skills required to run away from us. Naturally, I’m glad she’d developing. But I can’t help but feel a pang of regret that the days of her complete dependency on us are over. She is becoming an autonomous creature, and it is time to let begin letting her explore the world on her own.
The wide open spaces of this world are scary, and it will be some time before she – or her mother and I – will be ready to run out into those spaces unsupervised. There are still plenty of boundaries and containments that we as parents need to provide her (see above re: outlet plugs and cabinet locks). But the race is on, and I’m bracing myself because I know it isn’t going to be slowing down any time soon. The adventure continues…