This morning began like any other morning: me running late or on the brink of running late — well, running around anyway — getting showered and dressed and Maeve dressed and fed, packing her lunch and snacks, then running out of the door, her waving goodbye to the cats, to the house, to the trees in the yard: “Bye-bye Ella!” “Bye-bye Kate!” “Bye-bye house!” “Bye-bye tree!”
In the driveway, our morning ritual continued. Maeve is carefully five-point harnessed. My makeup is haphazardly applied. Soon we are on our way to her nursery school, me singing Wheels on the Bus while she does the hand motions and giggles from the backseat.
Little did I know I would soon get a glimpse of the future, when my baby is less a baby to ooh and aah at, and more, well, a child. A child with responsibilities. A child that will be observed, documented, described, defined by her abilities.
I don’t know if I’m ready for that.
This morning, her teacher, Miss J., gave me a completed “Developmental Profile” and told me where to sign, acknowledging receipt.
I’m sorry, what? Sign what? You did what? This is going in her file? What file? Wait, she has a file?
Just yesterday she was a 16-month old baby who waves three different ways with her little paw, says “I wuv wu” when prompted by her needy mother, and makes the silliest faces at the most hysterical times. This is the little one who loves giraffes with all her heart, points to the chair until her daddy or I sit and read her favorite book with her and uses sign language she learned at school to tell us she’s “all done” eating, wants to read the book “again” or likes corn so much she wants “more.” This is the little girl who, in her most tender moments, puts a hand on each of my cheeks and leans in to plant a juicy wet kiss on my lips, only to turn and run away in search of the ball or book awaiting her attention. (She is, after all, a busy little girl.)
And now, already, there are boxes to check and assessments to make? For example, some of the measured skills are whether she:
- Begin to show awareness of other children’s feelings
- Show increased understanding of words and gestures
- Use consistent sounds, gestures and some words to communicate
- Show increased memory skills
- Use toys and objects with a purpose
- Begin to participate in self-help activities
On the reverse side, there is a summary report where Miss J. outlines what the child is especially good at, difficulties they have, future goals and plans to meet those goals.
I’d like to think I’m a fairly intelligent person with a decent supply of common sense. Do I understand that children develop at all sorts of paces? Of course. Do I read books like “Touchpoints” to learn about stages of development and that every child is different? Yes. Did I hear Miss J. explain that it’s because every child develops differently in different areas that she thinks 16 months is too young to complete such assessments, but was required to? Yes.
Yet, knowing all of this, my undies were on the verge of being in a major bundle. In my heart of hearts I hadn’t wanted to read that Maeve wasn’t developing up to par or, hell, above par. I felt defensive. Surely they wouldn’t know all the wonderful things her dad and I know she can do, right?
So, skills assessment in hand, my eyes raced down the two columns ensuring the checkmarks lined up neatly on the “favorable” or “right” side of the margin. I wasn’t even reading the skills being assessed.
As I drove to work, I couldn’t get the skills assessment out of my mind. The more I thought about it, the more it became clear it was my reaction to the darn thing that was really bugging me.
Hell, it could have said she was “Developing as Expected” in throwing her hot lunch at her little friends all the while giving her teachers the finger. It didn’t matter. I just wanted it to be a positive score.
What does my defensive mindset say about my expectations for Maeve? Was I just being a mother and that was my protective instinct rearing its (ugly) head? Or, as I feared, was it that I wanted her to be perfect? To score highest? To be … the best? Geez, I thought, what’s wrong with me? Aargh.
Now, some 12 hours later, the hairs on the back of my neck have returned to their at ease position and I’m actually pleased this silly report exists. Not for Maeve, but for myself. It made me see something in myself I don’t like. Although I can want the very best for Maeve — it’s my job after all — I must remember that nobody’s perfect. Today proves I’m not. And it’s wrong for me to expect her — and her skills — to always be.
Indeed, this morning this oh-so-human mom was missing a very important piece of the parenting puzzle.
Sure, it’s easy to be the mom of a superbaby. But it seems to me that a super mom is the one at the ready to be (and provide) whatever it is her child needs. Especially when those Big Checkmarks in Life don’t line up so nice and pretty. Because they won’t always line up, I know that.
In the big picture, Maevey Gravy will choose who she wants to be, what she wants to do and who she wants to love. These are the marks she will make. These are the marks that matter.
My job is to be a safety net when she needs it and a fan in the stands when she’s doing it all on her own. I need to trust in Maeve, in her “skills” now and whatever her future “skills” turn out to be. She — and those skills, cultivated in her time and in her way — will carve her own path.
It matters not whether that journey includes scores of perfect scores. I will be her biggest fan, cheering the loudest. That’s the mom I want to be and the mom she most definitely deserves.