Family Magazine

Elizabeth, the Reluctant Walker

By Sherwoods

Elizabeth, the Reluctant Walker

 I love when my babies reach mobility milestones.  I always excitedly watch for when they learn to roll over, then sit up, then crawl, and finally walk.  Brandon doesn't understand why I want them to become more mobile - it just gives them further scope for creating messes.  Why would I want a nice, quiet, self-contained baby to get some mobility and start creating chaos everywhere they go?  I understand his view - mobile babies do manage to orchestrate some pretty spectacular disasters - but I enjoy the self-entertainment value of the messes.  Yes, I have to clean them up eventually (or even better - make one of the other children do it), but for that twenty or thirty minutes while the baby is creating their newest masterpiece, I am left alone.  A mobile baby is not a bored baby, and an entertained baby is a happy baby.  

I especially love when my babies learn how to walk.  When babies start walking, they aren't left behind all the time, busily crawling to try and keep up with the rest of the family.  They stop following everyone around the house, crying loudly to be picked up and taken along.  Instead, they just toddle behind, happy to be going something like the same pace as everyone else.  And they can be let out of their strollers when we go to parks, happily toddling around instead of eating mud and getting dirty.  It's just a better way to live.  There's a reason humans became bipedal.

Kathleen learned to walk at the early (for our family) age of twelve months.  Nobody else has matched her early mobility, with the latest walker being Sophia.  She didn't decide to be self-propelled until I was six months pregnant with Edwin.  Most of them have started walking between fourteen and fifteen months, much to my sadness.  I hear stories about nine- or ten-month walking babies, but none of mine have ever come close to being that clever.

Elizabeth has been... less adventurous... about all her mobility milestones.  She was coming close to her six-month birthday and was still unable to roll over.  She hadn't shone any inclination and wasn't particularly worried that practically her entire life was spent on her back.  Finally, worried about her development, I showed her how to roll herself over.  After a day or two of coaching, she picked it right up.  But I'm not sure when she would have decided to do it herself if nobody had intervened.  

She learned to sit up by pushing herself backwards through a split, which was endlessly entertaining.  I took several videos so that we can make sure she never forgets how strangely she sat up as a baby.  Her crawling also took coaching, but thankfully she learned to crawl before too much boredom set in and cries for entertainment disturbed us every twenty minutes.

When she learned to pull up on furniture at nine months, I figured that I had an early walker on my hands.  In my experience, babies are walking within a month or two of learning to get upright.  First a month passed, then two, then Elizabeth's first birthday, then another month, and she still didn't show any desire to walk.  

By the beginning of December (13 1/2 months, for those counting), she learned how to stand independently.  "Finally!" I thought to myself, "Now we're getting somewhere!"  Her favorite place to stand was in front of the Christmas tree, where she could delicately finger the ornaments, babbling pleased comments about the baubles she had better access to with this new and improved way of doing things.

Kathleen and Sophia, as eager as I was to see Elizabeth walk, started baby bootcamp for walking practice.  Their early efforts with gummy bears as bribes were fairly successful, but Elizabeth got tired of the game, and would fold her legs up in protest, going limp with every attempt to make her stand and walk.

Still they persevered, and after a month break, she grudgingly allowed her sisters to set her up so she could stumble a few steps into their arms.  After the false start of the month before, everyone thought that surely this was the time.  Every other time my children have learned to walk, they have moved quickly from those first few steps to walking drunkenly across the room, hands waving in the air, grinning with excitement with their new skill, taking a few weeks at most to make that jump.  

But not Elizabeth.  Having been shown that walking was possible, she just didn't care.  She would willingly enough consent to being set up to take three or four steps, but didn't see the use of doing any more than that.  When she needed to take something with her, she would just get up her knees and knee-walk across the floor while clutching the crucial toy, safely kept from having to walk.

This past week she has decided that walking is okay if you need to get from one place to another, but only if it is three feet away from where you already are.  Everyone is, again, waiting for that first unprompted trip across the floor, but I've stopped holding my breath.

We have a family vacation planned for the first week of March, one that would be a lot easier to take with seven fully mobile children.  Almost every day, the children ask if I think that Elizabeth will be walking by then.  If she were any other child, I would easily answer yes.  But I have no idea with Elizabeth.  She clearly likes to do things in her own way and in her own time.  

Sophia asked me recently how we could make Elizabeth walk.  I laughed and replied that nobody can make a baby do anything.  You can make things more attractive, set up situations where they're more likely to do things, and exert some small amount of physical coercion.  But - just like any other human being - you can't make babies do anything.  They do things when they decide that they want to do them, and not a second sooner.  Which is a good lesson to learn early on in life because children will continue to learn things when they want to and not any sooner.  And so will teenagers.  And so will adults.  So I suppose it's good to learn the limits of your power as a parent early and save a lot of hair being pulled out in the future.  Or at least that's the idea.  

So for now, I'm making sure to add 'baby carrier' to our packing list.  Is it possible that Elizabeth will start walking in the next four and a half weeks?  Perhaps.  Is it likely?  Maybe.  Should I stake the happiness of may vacation on it?  Definitely not.  She's making sure that we know now that she prefers to do things in her own time and in her own way.  Which, I suppose is good to know early so we can get ready for some fun times as she gets older.  And for now, I'll just keep carrying her around the house with me.  It's the final time anyone will need me to do that for them, so I'll enjoy it while it lasts.

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