I can still remember when I was a new mom, nine years or so ago. Milestones and schedules were so important to me then. Before Ben was born, I would read the book “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” and I would study the month by month guides, envisioning my baby crawling at six months, walking at a year, and talking not long after. (Spoiler alert- Ben did none of those things on that time table). I think that all parents have visions for the way their child’s life will go. We naturally assume they will learn to tie their shoes, swim in a pool, and learn to ride a bike. Nine years ago, those activities seemed like a given in my mind. It never crossed my mind to assume that my child would have difficulty achieving these childhood rites of passage. It never occurred to me that some of these things might not happen for my kid at all.
Fast forward nine years into the future. Fast forward to an older and (hopefully) wiser me. A few weeks ago Ben rode his bike on his own for the first time. The old me would have been completely freaked out about the fact that Ben didn’t show the slightest interest in riding a bike until he was nine. The old me would have looked around when Ben was five at all the kids whizzing around on two wheels and wondering why mine stuck on his tricycle. However, experience has taught me that Ben will do things when he is ready.
When Ben was four years old, he rode around the neighborhood on a tiny bike with training wheels. We spent part of our summer in Indiana, and I will never forget the day that changed Ben’s feelings about bikes forever. That morning he wanted to ride his bike through the my parent’s neighborhood as he had done every day for the past two weeks. In his rush to leave that day, he had forgotten his bike helmet. He set off, slowly picking up speed as he rode down the sidewalk with me trailing behind. Suddenly, I realized where he was headed and jogged to catch up. He had never gone that far before. I watched helplessly from the top of the hill as his bike quickly picked up speed. Ben's squeals of glee quickly changed to screams of terror. He flew out of control and landed in the middle of the road, head first. I raced down the hill but it was too late. I remember picking gravel out of his hair. I remember his blood on my hands. I should have stayed calm- I am always calm, but in that moment I panicked. I left the bike in the middle of the road and carried him home, yelling for my dad who was mowing the lawn and so he couldn’t hear me. I think my yelling is what stayed in Ben's mind the most. He felt my panic and made that panic his own. Thankfully, Ben didn’t need any stitches but long after the physical scars healed, the psychological damage remained. A cloud of anxiety hung over bicycles for years after. We tried encouraging bikes, and Ben would oblige us for very short distances, immediately abandoning the bike as soon as we would let him. Finally, five years later, Ben rode a tandem bike with his Nana while on vacation and found his confidence again. A week later he watched his best friend outpace him in the neighborhood as he struggled to keep up on his scooter. The time had finally come to try the bike again. At his request, we found Ben a blue bike of his own. They don’t make bikes his size with training wheels, so he would have to learn to ride and balance with two wheels. Thirty minutes later, Ben was flying around the neighborhood with no help from either of us. Ben’s story of learning to ride a bike was wildly different than how imagined bike riding would go for him. I had visions of little Ben riding around on training wheels until the day came when Dad removed them and worked with him until finally, he sailed off into the sunset. But the older and wiser me has learned to expect the unexpected.
Swimming under water was the same. For years Ben refused to get his face wet in the water. We tried swimming lessons every summer, even shelling out big bucks for private lessons once, but to no avail. We tried a “tough love” coach that got him to put his head under, through tears, but Ben would refuse to do it after classes were over. We tried all kinds of goggles and special gear, from nose plugs to fancy diving masks. Finally, one summer when he was eight, on a perfectly normal day, Ben decided to go under the water all on his own. Then, he decided to swim across the pool. Within an hour he was swimming all over, seeing how deep he could dive. And he hasn’t looked back since.
It was the same with tying his shoes. Ben showed no interest in tying all through kindergarten, first grade, and second grade. Finally, his third grade year dawned and Ben decided it was time. He worked with a buddy at school for a day and now he can tie his shoes like a pro.
I tell you these stories of my son to remind you of this. Don’t get too caught up in the developmental timetables that tell you when your child “should” do something. It’s important, of course, to pay attention to delays and to keep an eye on progress, but don’t become consumed with your child being different than the other children around him or her. As one wise blogger mom, Jess, likes to say, “Now is not forever, and never is a load of crap.” Your child may not achieve that milestone today or even tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean he or she will never get there. Ben constantly surprises us by what he suddenly decides to do. If you asked me a month ago if my kid would ever ride a bike, I would have said, “Probably not.” But today he rides all over the neighborhood. Never underestimate your child. Try not to put too much pressure on him or her to do something on your schedule. Let go of the vision of the child you expected to have and focus instead on the amazing child who is right in front of you. Love your child just as he or she is. Your child will thank you for it!
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