10 February 2011

Learning Curve

In the book What to Expect The Toddler Years, the authors (the same people who brought you What to Expect When You're Expecting and What to Expect The First Year—they've really got a thing about babies) provide an extremely detailed, comprehensive analysis of every stage of your child's life as a toddler—down to the month. Yes, month. These exhaustive guidelines provide detailed analysis of a child's expected progress. And while it's meant to chart the abilities of your offspring, you can't always help but see it as a rating system for your success (or failure) as a parent.

And this is only one resource. If you've been to a bookstore lately (if your town even still has one), you've likely seen a parenting and childhood section filled floor to rafters with a multitude of volumes. My wife and I also receive a daily e-mail (daily!) from a site called Baby Center. It is informative and helpful and . . . excessive? Stacks of magazines can also be found around our house, like Parents and Parenting (yes, those are two different magazines).

What did people do before all these publications? Before babies came with step-by-step owner's manuals, as if they were a washing machine or a Blu-ray player?

Anyway, those monthly sections of What to Expect the Toddler Years feature four groupings of developmental events: "should be able to," "will probably be able to," "may possibly be able to," and "may even able to." The lists include things like number of pictures the child can name, number of colors the child can identify, or number of words your child can use. Now, this is going to sound like bragging (which maybe, partially, it kind of is), but we frequently find that the Doozer has exceeded these parameters, more than mastered even the "may even be able to" events. Which we wonder about. While we're inclined (and let's face it, want) to think of our son as a genius, we also find ourselves believing that the bar must be set really low and there are just a ton of not-too-bright, not-terribly-coordinated, relatively slow-witted children running around (that maybe Mike Judge's Idiocracy was far more prescient than it initially seemed).

And then something weird happens. (Though maybe it's just me.) But I find myself fixating on the things he can't do yet, rather than the myriad of items he actually excels at. Why can't he do that? I'll ask the wife. What's wrong with him? Or maybe it's us. Why aren't we teaching him these things? What's wrong with us?

I'm beginning to see how people become stage parents.

You really have to remind yourself that the kid is not even three years old. Sure, Mozart was composing by the time he was 5 or something, but really, what are the odds you've got a little Mozart? I don't know how to calculate "odds" exactly, but I think the chances are unlikely.

Still, you can't help (okay, maybe I can't help) but feel that your kid could be a genius, a prodigy, a master of art or science or engineering. A peak athlete or a talented singer. Why not? It's never too early to start training them, molding them, nudging them toward—

Wait. Stop. What are you doing? He's a kid. Let him be a kid.

(Again, I'm really seeing how easily a rational person can turn into a stage parent.)

It seems trite or cliche to go on and on about the wonder of raising a child, but it really is like nothing else. There's no frame of reference for this, nothing to compare it to. And just being there while your kid learns, witnessing so many small acts of discovery, it really is a pretty indescribable experience.

Seeing him learn letters and words and sentences. And numbers. (I think "eleventeen" is my favorite.) Hearing him learn how to sing the Bob Marley classic "Three Little Birds" (thank you, Elizabeth Mitchell). How to drink from a cup that doesn't have handles or a sippy top. To pull up the zipper on the front of his pajamas.

This past week, he's been learning to get undressed before his bath. I mean, I've been teaching him how to do this. And he's doing it. I'm teaching and he's learning. This is really happening. And while he still hasn't mastered pulling off a shirt, he's making short work of his socks and pants. Don't worry, it's not a trick we'll encourage him to perform for company ("Look, everybody, the kid's gonna take his pants off!").

He'll probably get there all on his own. Some things they don't need to be taught.

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