Wednesday Words: Milestones

1. a stone set up beside a road to mark the distance in miles to a particular place.
2. an action or event marking a significant change or stage in development.

I’ve been pondering the word milestone.  Not only are there many milestone discussions in the parenting world at large, but they seem to double and triple in number after having a child with disability.  This seems like a completely understandable phenomenon, of course.  Having a child with a developmental delay is bound to result in some extra attention paid to milestones.  Yet, as understandable as it is, I’ve participated yet resisted without truly understanding why.

I never loved discussing milestones and my children.  It felt like distilling them into “what they’re doing”, with nothing else.  To top it off, the milestone discussion is so narrow.  Sure, my child could be walking, stringing two words together, or using a fork.  Another could be drawing stick figures and counting to ten.  Could that come close to describing Mouse’s sincerity, her endless empathy, her shy way of taking on other people’s worries?  What about Chipmunk’s infectious laugh, her irreverence, her flashes of temper?  What about LP’s goofy grin, his quiet reserve, and his burgeoning love of all things pork?

What’s more, the milestone conversation seldom yielded great outcomes.  Ahead or behind, it all felt uncomfortable.  I couldn’t take credit for being “ahead” nor did I want the judgment or guilt of being “behind”.  No matter how I thought about it, it did feel like a matter of “ahead” vs. “behind”, as I we were all going down the same road, some rushing ahead and some lagging behind, with no middle (because don’t forget, “average” is often a dirty word in today’s world of parenting).  It all felt very… linear and limited.

Roman Milestone (courtesy Wikipedia Commons)

Roman Milestone (courtesy Wikipedia Commons)

When I close my eyes and think of the word milestone, I think (of course) of roads, paths, and journeys.  It also evokes a lot of “full potential” imagery for me, as if a single best possible outcome to an individual’s life waits at the top of a windy path.  A path lined… with milestones.  Crawl, then to walking.  Walk, then to running.  Always looking to the next thing.

But… Why?  Why does it have to be a path?  Why are we worrying about who is ahead, who is behind?  Are milestones really markers alongside the road of life, to be passed by in order to get to the next thing?  Most importantly, where are we going? Frankly, I dislike the pressure and stress of thinking about milestones.  I can’t tell you how many parents I know who’ve confided that they feel anxious, sad, guilty, or worried that their child hadn’t reached some certain developmental milestone.  It hurts my heart, and I’ve felt it as well.  I’ve felt that little pang, wondering if my son’s developmental delay is stopping him from getting There.  You know, over there. That place up ahead on the path that, were I a better mother, I might get him to sooner.  Perhaps, if I were a better mother, he would be one step closer to the mirage called Full Potential.

Edward Hopper - NIghthawks (courtesy Wikipedia Commons)

Edward Hopper – NIghthawks (courtesy Wikipedia Commons)

Instead of markers on a path to a destination, I’d rather think of milestones as an artist’s tools on the canvas of life.  I’d rather think of each of my children having a differently shaped canvas, determined at birth, but blank and waiting for embellishment.  I’d rather think of each child being beautiful in his or her own right, regardless of where they’ve been or where they are going.  Maybe we do not reach the same milestones, but we all reach some simply by living and learning, don’t we?  Each development adds color, texture, image to our canvas.

Mark Rothko - no. 14 (courtesy Wikipedia Commons)

Mark Rothko – no. 14 (courtesy Wikipedia Commons)

Milestones are simply tools.  We all have different ones, and there’s no “must have” or a magic number of skills one must acquire to be worthy.  Some people never have certain tools, some give tools up over time, some tools come unexpectedly.  As I watch my children’s canvasses fill, I see an awesome alchemy unfold.  No ahead, no behind.  Just single moments of life, flashing with mystery and beauty, forever changing.  A painting with a single brush stroke is just as meaningful as one with a hundred colors.  Small, big, dark, bright, complex and simple—each has its place.

Van Gogh - Starry Night (courtesy Wikipedia Commons)

Van Gogh – Starry Night (courtesy Wikipedia Commons)

Next time I’m asked, I hope I can do my child justice by the products of developmental milestones rather than the milestones themselves.  Each child’s life canvas is beautiful and worthy, just as it is.

Enso (courtesy Wikipedia Commons)

Enso (courtesy Wikipedia Commons)

11 Comments on “Wednesday Words: Milestones”

  1. ajummama says:

    i think the older generation, esp. Koreans, is really into milestones. micah started walking around 14 months old while a few of his little buddies started around the dohl mark. my mama said in Korean, “you think it’s because your NYC apartment is so small while his chingoo lives in a huge house?” but then again, my ppl are very black-and-white about life, often hurtful, rarely encouraging of carving out your own path. btw, i wanna talk to you about so many things, like the pros and cons about personal blogging, and man, i should have used fictionarl names for my boys too(?). holla later.

    • jisun says:

      Snort. That sounds exactly like something my mom might have said to me. Of course, met with eye roll, which would then be met with a remark about how I don’t listen. ;)

      I don’t use the kids’ real names mostly because the hubby was worried about it. Criminal lawyer. Ya know.

      Pros and cons of blogging, we could probably have a pretty long convo about that!

  2. Diane says:

    Yep…this is the attitude I need to have! Most times I do, but then I feel that little pang and it makes me a little sad. Hey, Camden just started rolling tummy to back again. Crazy boy!

  3. Lisa says:

    Another wise and lovely post.

  4. Stephanie says:

    Love this one! I have been pondering similar feelings for the last 6 months. I can only let Owen be Owen because that’s who he is. I stopped caring what others are doing and just let him guide me as to what he wants to work on. He’ll make his path and I’ll follow.

  5. Great post! Milestones are tricky business aren’t they? Especially once you have a child w/special needs and going through early intervention. I get the point of EI, but sometimes you just want to throw those goals away. Kayla had one about stacking blocks that seemed like it was there forever and I just wanted to scream ‘can we take it off already?!” she CAN stack, she just has NO INTEREST in blocks … just like her mom :)

    • jisun says:

      I’m laughing because I’m the same way and my first didn’t pay with blocks at all for the longest time, except to carry them around in bags and purses. At some point someone asked me if there was something odd about the fact that she wasn’t stacking them. I’m sure if we had been in EI it would have been a “thing”. And now, we have the same thing going on with being able to bang two toys together. He just doesn’t care about that, oy!

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