By forever, I mean 17 months.
Actually, in retrospect, I thought it took J forever to walk, but now I have M to put his development into perspective. M always has this effect on me. She is nothing like J, and her story is nothing like J’s. She is exuberance to his reserve. She is fearless to his caution. She is defiant to his obedience. She had 3.5 more weeks in the womb than he did, which any preemie parent knows is just about a lifetime. She also had two rounds of steroid shots to develop her lungs just before birth; J did not.
M is almost 16 months old. By adjusted age, she is nearly at the point when J was hanging onto his walking wings for dear life, taking his first steps of hard-fought independence. Despite all their differences and her perceived advantages, it appears that she will walk no earlier than he did.
If J changed everything in my life, turned it all upside down and inside out, then how could M be such a surprise? She has shown me that even when you think you’ve made sense of the world, you probably are still just a sweet, little babe in the woods, naïve about your own naivety. So much of my frustration with J was misplaced because I compared him to unfair goals and children who weren’t born prematurely. Now, I realize that every goal he met, every step of forward progress he made, was nothing short of miraculous.
Not to take anything away from M, because she has overcome odds too, but it was J who was thrown to the wolves at 26 weeks with so many challenges. In his caution and reserve, sometimes we miss the magic of his accomplishments. They aren’t done in explosive fits or with gleeful giggles, like with M, and so sometimes we look up one day and find that tiny changes have compounded into J becoming a totally different child.
Now, as I await the tentative first steps of another late walker, I also realize something else. The early years of raising premature babies are different from the norm; in fact, they are vastly different. And even though the kids are all different too, there are some commonalities that preemies share that we cannot escape.
It doesn’t seem to matter that M’s personality is nothing like J’s, or that she’s a girl and he’s a boy. It doesn’t seem to matter that she crawls and he didn’t, or that she had 25 more days of development in utero. Here we are at 16 months with a baby who isn’t yet walking. And in my world, that is perfectly normal.