The Gift of Walking
Another Way for week of April 22, 2017
The Gift of Walking
My daughter shared a wonderful image from her 14-month-old’s life recently as they walked to a nearby playground. It was the first time he’d been to the playground since he had started to walk; he is pretty solid but still falls occasionally.
Her husband and their older son took off quickly for a favorite amusement. Michelle took the toddler out of the stroller and instead of taking him and putting him on the nearest slide or swing, she thought she’d let him choose where he wanted to go first. But instead of making a beeline anywhere, he just stood there, taking it all in.
She imagined him weighing the delicious choices in his very young brain. Where should he go? Did he really have the option to choose? What new freedom did he have? And in a minute, he happily walked toward the swings.
But what struck me about her story was thinking about the process of getting from newborn-infant-helplessness to walking-upright-over-uneven-ground and choosing your own play.
We’ve been so fortunate to have four grandsons since 2013. I have been marveling at the wonderful process of learning to walk—even if from afar. When our daughters were learning to walk, I was with them many hours a day (I worked about three days a week while they were small). The learning-to-walk process seemed to take forever. In fact, as a new mom, I remember being somewhat astounded about how unclear a process it was. What was actual walking? Is taking one step while holding on to furniture considered walking? Or just cruising? Is standing and stepping and then falling considered a first step? What counts? What if she takes one step one evening, immediately falls, and then doesn’t try for another week or two? What date do you put in the baby book?
The developmental steps involved start with the baby’s first wobbly attempts at just holding up his own head which weighs proportionally so much more than the rest of his body. Next comes increasing the upper arm and shoulder strength that enables babies to turn over. The current sleeping patterns of infants in North America, where pediatricians encourage parents to always place infants on their backs to sleep (which has greatly reduced death rates from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), can slow the rate at which they begin holding their heads up off the mattress or floor.
So “tummy time” spent regularly on the floor helps make up that loss. Rolling over and getting into the crouching position and ready to crawl comes over the next few months. Sitting up and then shifting weight onto one hand or another is another step which leads to the walking process. Finally, pulling into a kneeling or standing position with the use of crib rails or furniture—and they’re almost there! But it can still take weeks and months for the actual first step or two to happen.
Do animals have to labor through any of this? They would appear not to. The difference between human and animal babies is explained at least in part by the relatively undeveloped brain of an infant at birth—where human babies do much less for themselves than the offspring of animals.
We have neighbors with sheep and I always enjoy this time of year when frequently some new baby lambs make an appearance. The lambs love gamboling about in the field down the road from our house. This is like a day or two after they are born. What would we think if a tiny infant would get up and frolic in two days? We’d call the national media! Lambs actually are usually standing within the first hour.
The same with a young baby calf: they are typically on their rather shaky legs within 30 minutes of being born. If they aren’t up and about within two hours veterinarians say humans should intervene. It must be said however that walking on all fours is infinitely easier than standing upright to walk on just two limbs. That’s why we first learn to crawl.
These days, most often grandparents do not see a grandchild’s first steps in person—unless they live nearby or baby sit every day or frequently. We may get a video or do a Facetime video session with them, and oooh and praise their first steps that way. I love the Proverb that goes “Children’s children are a crown to the aged” (Proverbs 17:6).
What fun watching new lambs, calves or babies exploring their world. What a shame that too soon we take for granted the wonderful gift of walking and navigating on our own. We newly appreciate the gift of walking as we get older and watch our friends and relatives lose mobility—temporarily or not. We don’t often remember the second part of Proverbs 17:6, which adds a different slant on aging: “And parents are the pride of their children.” In some cultures, the aged hold places of high respect and honor. In North America, we often could do better in that department—to honor and visit and appreciate the aging among us—whether related or not.
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Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books, most recently Whatever Happened to Dinner. Another Way columns are posted at FindingHarmonyBlog.com a week after newspaper publication.