Wednesday Words: MilestonesPosted: September 18, 2013
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.