Ender is… well I won’t call it Crawling, but by the time you finish reading this post it might be. He’s got the legs mostly worked out, but his arms stick out stiff in front of him, effectively providing breaks to his forward momentum. Sometimes he topples forward and manages to scramble a few inches, sometimes he sort of hops, frog style, and his whole body slides forward a bit. Sometimes he tips to the side and ends up in a roll which takes him somewhere unless he gets distracted by looking at the ceiling.
Whatever I want to call it though, Ender is starting to be mobile. It might take him a while to get there, but he moves from point A to point B. Or at least to point A and 1/2. So far he rarely travels further than a few feet at a time, and by the time he makes it that far he’s probably ready for a nap, or at least a different point of view. Nonetheless, my baby is moving (or rather crawling) slowly into a significant new phase of independence.
I think the reason I’ve been so excited about crawling (despite many many suggestions from more experienced parents to enjoy the lack of mobility while I could) is because it is the first time a baby is able to inflict his will on the world. Up until this point, Ender has been subject to my choices and my whims. Obviously he still is, but before the only protest he could make was to cry or to hold on to the toy a bit tighter. Now he can run away. He can go places I’d rather he not.
Obviously it’s not just about baby vs. parent. Ender suddenly has the ability to make real choices.
I mean, sure, before, while he was playing under his baby gym, he could choose to bat at the owl, or yank on the blue bird, or kick the padded bar, but this is the illusion of choice we give to toddlers to appease them (would you like the blue socks or the red socks today?) not a real decision.
Soon, Ender will be able to survey the room and decide: do I want to go play with the ball, or do I want to hide under a blanket, or do I want to try to pull up on that chair? Or maybe shake the security gate or bang on the door?
We think of crawling as a big milestone, but we lump it in line with sitting up and rolling over, we see it as a halfway point to walking. It’s more than any of those, because it is such a significant shift in how the baby’s world operates.
I realize this will sound absurd, but it makes me think of the video game the Sims. Sims 2 to be specific. (And this isn’t even the first time I’ve talked about life mirroring the Sims.) In the Sims 2, when your sim has a baby, it functions as an object in the game for three days. You have to feed it and change it and bathe it, and you can play with it or sing to it, and you put it to bed. After three days, it morphs to a “toddler” a slightly larger crawling sim. Only then can you see the intent of the sim, the moods, the metered needs and wants and fears. Only then does the sim have selectable actions, and begin to learn skills. Only then does the sim become a playable character.
From the time Ender was born, he was learning of course. They do that. Up until now, he was not a participant in his learning, he was a passive receiver, truly the sponge we say babies are (a really CUTE sponge though). Now he is on the same continuum as a toddler or even a preschooler. Of course there is a world of difference between a crawling baby and a three year old, but it is only one of time and experience, not one of being.
Rather, I know why they say it. If you’re a vet, you probably see mostly sick animals, and when they’re really sick, death is a saving grace to the pain which is your vision of that animal’s normal. If someone’s cat was hit by a car, of course you wouldn’t say “It was for the best.” When your cat gets a sudden illness, or even a less sudden illness, it is one long car accident, culminating in death. When it’s over, and you’re stroking the fur of what used to be your cat, you are still reeling from coming home to find her wheezing and lethargic, barely able to move and not interested in tuna. When the vet says “It’s for the best,” you are still thinking of uneaten tuna.
It brings up those secret worries about snowballing vet bills. Googling “hepatitis” and the dismay at complicated and expensive long term treatment on top of the twice a day insulin injections and hepatitis has a different special diet than diabetes and there will probably be more urine and vomit and blood and probably diarrhea to clean up now. In the end you conclude she’s worth it, but when the vet says, “It’s for the best,” that little part of you that was tallying up the logistics of animal illness slinks lower down inside you, hunched with guilt.
Chyna (pronounced Chee-nuh) was probably about 8.
Back when Matt was still living in his own apartment, I had a project using a little piece poster board. The rest of the poster board I folded in half, into a rough Teepee shape and wrote “cat house” on the side. To my delight, Chyna ran right over it and proceeded to camp out. She played in that paper Teepee for weeks as it lost it’s shape sliding wider and lower, and she had to crawl on her belly to get underneath.
If you made the mistake of scratching your leg beneath a blanket, Chyna was there to help you SCRATCH harder. Then when you jerked your hand out from under the blanket she perked up and said, “pet me?” with her eyes.
Her meow sounded surprisingly like the word “hello” and I’d always meant to record it, but never got around to it.
She liked to carry toys in her mouth and meow around them, and often meowed in the darker corners of the house, as though she was exploring. If we called out to her, she we glance at us, then continue her expedition. Hello? Hello?
A few years ago we adopted Tricky, and Chyna, though she was eventually happier for the company, started binge eating to keep the new cat from getting her food. She slowly gained weight and started slowing down, acting old. About a year and a half ago, we found out she had diabetes, and almost as soon as we started treatment, she started acting like a kitten again, and was more loving and social than ever. The new house was likewise good for her, with more spaces, more places to climb, more perches, and spaces to crouch beneath.
With some cats it seems like the only time they come near you is when they want to be fed or they want to be pet, but Chyna would follow you around to see what you were up to. If your lap was full, she would curl up by your leg, or if it was too hot, she’d curl up a few inches away, purring and clearly just happy to be near you. Her favorite place in the world was the bathroom, and the first time she tried to jump on Matt’s lap he was in the bathroom and he was, shall we say, unprepared for a lap cat.
When Ender came into the picture, Chyna was the first cat to sniff him (though she’s also been the smarter cat in terms of keeping out of reach as he starts to grab for furry things) and when he cried she would meow at us in evident concern that we weren’t taking care of him fast enough. One of our friends brought a toddler to the house, and when we weren’t watching closely enough, she picked up Chyna around the middle, and carried her into the room, arms and legs sticking awkwardly out in front. Chyna didn’t try to scratch or bite the little girl, she just looked at us and meowed pitifully as if to say, “can you do something about this please?” I really hoped we would get a few years of trying to stop Ender chasing her around before we would have to say goodbye.
Whenever we got home from a trip, or even a long day of errands, Chyna would be sitting at the french doors, looking out for us. As we got out of the car, she would stand up expectantly, and we could see her mouth opening to meow at us.
Ender started in the Gymboree Play and Learn stage 2 at the beginning of December, when he turned 6 months old. He had just been starting to make crawling like attempts, and I thought maybe getting him at a place like Gymboree would help get him going.
His favorite place to experiment with movement is our bed. He has been wriggling and moving himself there for well over a month now, but when he gets on floors, carpet or hardwood, he tends to be a lot more cautious, which is probably pretty smart now that I think about it. Since Gymboree is just padded everywhere, I thought it might let him be more adventurous, without me having to drag him back from a bed edge every few minutes.
It didn’t work out quite as expected. First of all, Ender had almost no interest in trying anything at all at Gymboree. Maybe if I’d stuck around longer he would have gotten used to the newness and started to play more, but the bright colors seemed to bewilder him and something about the way the room was built made sounds echo unnervingly- it gave me a headache, and I suspect it is part of what kept Ender static. He DID love the colored wiffle balls, but you know, balls are easy to come by, and I’m not sure he loved them because of any particular quality of their own, or just because it was the only thing in the play area that was small enough for him to handle and shove in his mouth. By the end of the month, he was also pretty interested in the bubbles, which prompted me to buy some for him, since he’s never taken the slightest notice before.
It’s possible that Ender was just too young for something like Gymboree. Aside from thinking it might get him crawling a little sooner, I didn’t want or expect some miracle exercise routine. I don’t think it’s necessary or advisable to push that kind of thing on babies. Mainly, I think the purpose of baby activities such as Gymboree is to keep people like me sane, giving them something to do and a reason to get dressed and leave the house. I was disappointed all around though: Ender pretty much just sat there and watched everything until he got overwhelmed enough to cry (admittedly not often). And though he was the youngest baby in the class, the other babies didn’t seem much more engaged in the equipment or activities than he was. Left to their own devices, the babies played with the whiffle balls, and maybe occasionally grabbed the mini trampoline. Everything else was parent led, urging the babies to go down parallel slides together and watch each other to promote socialization (not kidding) or ride in the boat (the babies seemed pretty bored with it after the first 20 seconds) or roll a ball down the slope (they preferred to hang on to the balls actually, thank you very much). Not only is this overly parent-directed style pretty contrary to my ideas about parenting, it also made socialization a bit strained, because we were too busy trying to entertain babies who would have been content to chew on wiffle balls.
What it comes down to I think, is that I’m spoiled. When Ender was about 3 months old I discovered story time at the local library. Then I realized that there are seven different Cuyahoga County libraries within 20 minutes of my house, and they ALL have story time. I can go to story time every weekday- a story time geared towards 0-18 month olds. It’s short, about 15 minutes, which is about as long as the babies can go without getting restless, and it’s followed by an open play time with library baby toys. We do rhymes, songs, and usually one or two short picture books. And it’s FREE. During the free play after I can chat with other moms (and the occasional dad) while Ender gnaws on the library toy nearest him, and then when he decides he’s had enough, we can leave. If he’s cranky, or ready for a nap, or if something else comes up on any particular day, I can skip story time without feeling guilty, because 1) it’s (once again now) FREE and 2) I know I can try again the next day. Ender loves watching the other kids, (far more of which are crawling around at story time then Gymboree) and the only suggested “activity” is, you know, reading stories. I decided to give Gymboree a try in December, because the story time series took a break over December. It started back up today.
So Gymboree didn’t do much for us. I have to realize though that this is only because I already had something better.
*Gymboree image from flickr user sully213