No pain, no gain
The verse for this month’s lesson on daddy-ing dilemmas comes from chapter one, page one of the quaintly named “The Pre-school Book.” Written by Brenda Thompson and published in the year of my birth (1976), this bible of parenting wisdom is getting to be a little more faded and smelling a little mustier these days.
Despite its age, however, it remains a timelessly trendy guide to how parents should bring up their kids. What’s more, as one of my mum and dad’s parenting manuals, it is now a family heirloom. Thompson offers educated advice that is guaranteed to warm the staunchest of liberal hearts – “encouragement” and “help” feature prominently.
One quote in particular has been playing on my mind as I have been reflecting on my latest adventures in fatherland: “You needn’t be disappointed if your child is late developing a certain skill,” says Thompson. “Children develop their abilities in different orders and at different rates.”
Actually, we in the West probably don’t need her or Dr. Spock to preach this egalitarianism to us. It is by now pretty deeply ingrained in our societies. But in China, I suspect the same is not necessarily true. Indeed, I have recently had cause to think that going with the flow may not always be the best thing for your child.
The event (or rather non-event) that triggered this awakening was Daniel not crawling, then continuing not to crawl. In fact, at 9 months he was still not crawling – by which time, as any Chinese person old enough to dote on kiddies will tell you, he most certainly should have been (whatever Thompson might think). But this went against the grain of my “all kids are equal; some just learn to crawl sooner than others” notion; so I was determined not to worry about it.
Things came to a head, however, at Daniel’s standard nine-month checkup. Unimpressed, the doctor informed us that our little darling’s motor skills had fallen roughly two months behind the average. We were shocked – so much for keeping up with the Zhangs! At past checkups, he had excelled, particularly in linguistic ability. Now, the dream of raising Daniel into a sports prodigy teeters on edge.
What could have interrupted our budding baby genius’s smooth ascent to becoming a child prodigy? Too much carrying him about and not being allowed to do things on his own, doctor reckoned – basically, being spoiled. There was only one thing for it: off to the baby physiotherapist.
I am aware of the danger, at this point, of losing reader sympathy (or readers), but I promise that “baby physio” (my term) probably makes things sound more extreme than they actually were. Admittedly, our cherubim child was made to do the infantile equivalent of slow motion sit-ups on top of a giant bouncy ball. He was also dangled over it and rolled forwards on it until he objected. To improve his leg strength, he was helped to climb up padded steps to the windowsill, and he was stood in a giant basket and swung about in order to learn balance. But truly, he was never in actual physical danger.
Perhaps the most important thing we learned was the proper technique for helping a baby to learn to crawl. The secret, if you want to save yourself a few kuai, is to grip the ankles. Don’t push the soles of the feet, as we had been doing, and as baby’s left hand stretches out, push the right foot forward, repeating with the opposite side.
Maybe Thompson wouldn’t agree with dangling little babes over the edge of giant balls until the point where they panic, but soon enough, after the baby boot camp treatment, Daniel began grasping the meaning of forward motion. Within about two weeks, he was crawling like a pro. And we didn’t even need to make him do any sit-ups when we got home.