Thursday, October 07, 2010 • 12:00 AM Comments (11)

Milestones, Missing from the Books

posted by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

For the longest time, I’ve been aware that the baby books—you know, those infant year tomes you fill with firsts—both have it right and are misleading. What’s right is observe and celebrate your children’s “milestones.” What’s misleading is, to me, twofold: for one thing, you can’t possibly remember everything that happens, book or no book. The other, though, and the one I got pretty intrigued with a few years back is that there are so many things to notice, ones a baby book ignores. And well beyond that first year, the fact is that our kids are hitting subtle milestones all the time at every age.

Here’s an example from the days when I was first taking note of this phenomenon: there was the, my preschooler can buckle the seatbelt when he climbs into his booster seat moment. Note that part of why this milestone is important: I no longer had to go to the backseat and buckle the child in. I could simply get into the car.

I was reminded of this so-many-overlooked-milestones idea over the weekend watching my toddler daughter (she’s two and a half, plus) pick up scissors in the studio at the Carle Museum and proceed to hold them correctly and to make feathery cuts along the paper’s edge. I marveled, you know how to use scissors? I had best get the kid-scissors out at home. And when I made this observation about her and scissors, I was surprised and unsurprised. She’s been filling in the Sudoku puzzles after her papa finishes the newspaper’s crossword puzzle, after all, as in making marks within the tiny boxes for a few weeks now. This is called Saskia does the crossword puzzle. And her brother, Remy, at the same age, was quite adept at—and worked prolifically with—stickers. I have thick piles of sticker creations from our shared early morning work sessions. I kid you not: he made sticker pictures while I kind of, somewhat, a little bit worked. We did this every single morning before anyone else got up.

As I was mulling this phenomenon, I came across Rebecca Woolf’s ode to her daughter’s turning two, a slideshow featuring photos from her daughter, Fable’s, second year on earth. Woolf writes: “So many changes occur between a first and second birthday and looking back at pictures of Fable barely standing, (Fable, like Archer, didn't walk until she was seventeen-months) practically bald, I can only imagine that this time next year I'll be banging my head against the wall same as I did tonight, remembering all the wonderful things and times I apparently forgot.”

The thing about the just-turned-tot going from nearly bald and barely walking or the preschooler buckling the seatbelt or the teenager getting dishes to sink and laundry to hamper (enough of the time to “count”) is that if milestones are most often “about” something, that something is increased independence.

For me, personally, seeing those moments in that context took a long while (as my stepfather always said of our first child—and for him, grandchild—“Why should his feet touch the ground? Everyone wants to carry him.”). That kid’s feet do touch the ground these days—he’s walking to school as I write this—and even now, sometimes, the fact that his busy schedule—high school student and stage manager of the school’s fall production, Hamlet, locals, mark your calendars—takes him away from us so much of the time makes me a little sad. I miss him (not always, I’m not solely a mushball and when he’s grumpy and hanging around, I miss him not one bit). I have to get used to missing him, though, because ultimately what he and I share is wanting him to keep finding that independence and discovering the world beyond our house (and then, indeed, coming back and sharing what he’s been up to and eating copious amounts of potato chips and leftover pasta).


I’ve also been thinking—again, not in the baby book model, but another must-observe-carefully development—in terms of Saskia’s emerging awareness about being adopted. The conversations I had freely when she was smaller, I no longer do, because I realize she may well be listening, not necessarily intentionally or intently, but she really can pick up on anything. Like that fallacy that there’s one “the” talk about sex, I know there’s not one conversation about adoption, which is why we’ve been—and continue to be—open about it around her, and with others. There are things, though, the less easy things, I don’t discuss now (like the saga of the first father’s having threatened to seek custody). I’ve started to think a lot about whether there should be “a” talk, though, a kind of laying out of this truth of hers—and ours.

From all I’ve read and all that people have shared with me, embracing her somewhat more complicated than some people’s family constellation will be a process, like a river trip, complete with ebbs and eddies and rapids and current and battling the wind and enjoying the view. I feel protective of her in this regard, tender really, and hold onto these things in hopes they help: she’s a happy girl—loved, secure, connected, comfortable—and she has so many loving people wanting her journey to be stellar and simultaneously, willing to keep eyes and heart open when things feel rough. At every difficult passage I’ve gone through with my kids, that first part—faith in their solidity—supports the second part—willingness to open my eyes and navigate what’s less than comfortable or easy.

Comments (11)
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Aw, thanks for the link, love. So much love to you and yours. Beautiful post.

Posted by GirlsGoneChild on 10.7.10 at 23:12

I love this post for so many reasons. I have wanted to write about firsts and lasts. But I do love this and for the record, I do remember when mine started buckling her own seatbelt. It was one of those things that I later realized was particularly a big step toward my independence-- perhaps that one more than hers. And I've always, always wanted us all to visit the Eric Carle Museum. Perhaps a trip in the future which could include meeting you!

Posted by laurawrites1 on 10.7.10 at 23:59

Thank you both! A Carle Museum visit would be welcomed any time--love to bring people there (& hang out besides, it's a nifty place where I live)!

Posted by Sarah B on 10.8.10 at 6:56

beautiful, as always, sarah. my first has scrapbooks *and* a half-filled baby book. the other two? not so much. i really love your point about what's important and had to lol about the seat belts. serious *mama* milestone, indeed.

sarah, i always love reading about your journey. but your words about adoption never cease to take my breath away. you're amazing, you know that, right?

Posted by Galit on 10.8.10 at 11:11

A great milestone in my child's life: taking the dog out for a walk himself.

Posted by susan rees on 10.8.10 at 14:38

A small but memorable milestone of which I was reminded by your "when did she learn that?" scissor moment: shoe-tying. Someone else taught my daughter- I have never known who- and I know this because she ties them in a way her dad and I don't, but that I've seen done by others. Suddenly I noticed she had done it herself, but we had not taught her and didn't even know her method!

Another very cool milestone- the first time she was willing to approach the teacher/camp counselor-type figure to talk about anxieties with how things were going in lessons/school/camp, rather than having me do so. And the resulting realization that speaking up and discussing your concerns will usually help a lot- at least with teachers and camp counselor-type figures.

The now teen's biggest milestone in recent times: becoming a Facebook user. Life-changing in many ways. No joke.

Posted by ablack2us on 10.8.10 at 20:51

How I love these milestones. A physical therapist friend wrote me about the post that she's so often struck by how rushed parents are & in their frenzy, unable to slow down enough to take note of their children's journeys. She said it made her feel very sad, because there's so much to notice.

Teen on Facebook does seem like a milestone (it was for ours).

Susan, we don't have a dog so our similar solo but caregiving milestones seem to revolve around child being able to do __ with Saskia without us.

Galit, another friend wrote of her daughter's adoption that she feared talks/forums that pathologize adoption. I think it's going to be quite fascinating along with all else.

Posted by Sarah B on 10.8.10 at 21:27

Sarah: Thanks for sharing this post with me. Beautifully written. ...It's funny, the scissor thing. B still can't use scissors at nearly 3 now, and it's one of those little milestones that makes me anxious when I see her peers cutting with ease. We think B is left-handed but we're letting her decide which hand to use for everything she does, which I think slows her down a bit.

Posted by The Daily B on 10.9.10 at 0:18

For what it's worth, clearly not every kid comes to every milestone at the same time. Having had a kid who didn't cut, nor draw, nor write, nor jump with two feet... you get what I'm saying, who needed help, I've learned a couple of things: you can & should keep your eyes open about those things--not worry over one but see, if your kid isn't climbing or sliding or drawing or liking to use utensils, a few of those things, then it's worth noting & asking teachers/pediatrician/even early intervention folks whether they notice anything (pediatricians often don't nor did my eldest son's old-school type preschool teachers, who saw him as a talker & a book kid & didn't show nearly enough concern about anything else, even with our asking/inquiring/worrying).

I would give kids age 3-ish things like clay (very good for their hand strength/dexterity/sensory stimulation) often, & encourage other fine motor tasks as play--clothespins or picking up small things (though not in mouth so depends on child & other children), offer pencil or crayons, stickers, you get the idea. You'll see whether your child welcomes those challenges or kind of turns away from them & with eyes open that becomes information for you. (I had no idea about this until we'd been through some intervention with my eldest).

I'm a lefty & that does complicate (or did for me) the scissors thing!

Posted by Sarah B on 10.9.10 at 19:27

Tiny food pieces of something they especially like is another way to help them develop the pincer grasp.

old-school type preschool teachers, who saw him as a talker & a book kid & didn't show nearly enough concern about anything else, even with our asking/inquiring/worrying).

That's interesting. There are sometimes parents who don't want to hear it, but if the parents are asking and worrying, somebody should have called in a consultant to observe. It's not that big a deal.

Posted by jzzy55 on 10.11.10 at 0:15

They sure should have. And parents do get defensive: our fabulous first grade teacher was shocked at our relief when she suggested he go to Physical Therapy; she was sure we'd fight her on it. We were so very grateful to have someone see what we sort of hazily saw & suggest there might be something to do to help him.

Pincer grasp with food, also a great idea; I think that's why Cheerios are such a good invention!

Posted by Sarah B on 10.11.10 at 7:28



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