Expectations and Reality – A RIE in Real Life story

An excerpt from
The Parents’ Tao te Ching

Hello and Happy Friday Saturday,

First of all, a belated but sincere happy Veteran’s Day to all my families who have family of their own who served in the military. Thank you.

You may have noticed that I didn’t send this message out last night. I couldn’t. It wasn’t written! (Yes, I have the terrible/wonderful habit of waiting until Friday to write my Friday messages.)

It wasn’t written, and I didn’t know what I’d write about. That’s not terribly unusual…I often don’t have a firm idea of the story I want to tell until I sit down and start writing, and even when I do know what I plan to write about it, it can be…sticky. But last night was different because I just couldn’t settle myself. My mind was preoccupied with the details of what I didn’t get done during the week, there were contractors hammering away in my backyard (we are halfway to a deck!), and I’d just heard an awful, tragic story that simply broke my heart. Neither my heart, my head, nor my body were in a place to write. So, I took the advice I often give you: I slowed down.

In Seeing Infants with New Eyes, Magda reminds us that it’s not easy to play a role, to follow someone else’s script or schedule…and yet that is what the world wants to do to babies (“is she sleeping through the night?” “is he crawling yet?” “have they said their first words?”). We know what’s coming and so we look for it, instead of looking at what’s right here. We rush it, instead of seeing what happens.

Of course, there are times when we know (or we think we know) better and it is ‘time’ for something to happen (like this newsletter) and like a child walking again after recovering from a broken leg. That’s a remarkable story that I think I’m ready to share.

As alluded to above, a child from one of my RIE classes broke a leg a while ago (not in class!). Ouch! And it was a break that was bad enough to need a cast on her entire leg…no walking casts for her. No problem, I assured her Mom, children with casts adjust to them easily and quickly and figure out how to move quite naturally because children are so adaptable. And it’s true, this child did adapt to her cast easily enough, but because she couldn’t maneuver well, she had to be picked up and moved from place to place. Challenging for a family with a newborn at home, but absolutely do-able. And maybe even a gift to this child as she navigated becoming a big sister…all the extra cuddles and attention in a time when so much else was going on at home probably was a really welcome thing.

The problem was that once the cast was off, this child didn’t immediately return to walking. Or really even crawling much. She needed to be picked up and carried still, even though her leg was completely healed and the doctor gave the okay to start walking again. I spent a couple of hours at her house one afternoon, gently encouraging her Mom to walk away (and return quickly!) and let her daughter work through her fear and anger and terror at being not only left (I stayed with her!), but also at not feeling like she COULD walk. By the end of those hours, though, she was pulling herself to standing and even taking some tentative steps while holding on to her mother’s hands. When I saw her a week later, she was…very slowly and cautiously…walking and even climbing up and over the Pikler triangle in class.

You might think this is a story about encouraging a child to do what her body needed her to do even though she didn’t want to…and indeed, that’s how I framed it for her Mom, and how I framed it for myself the previous week. But when I saw this child, a full week after I’d last been with her, still working so hard to regain her ability to walk and move, what really struck me was that I thought she was ready to walk again MUCH sooner than she really was. My idea of her readiness and her actual physical and mental readiness were VERY different.

I’m so glad that this Mom trusted her instincts and very slowly built in steps for her daughter to have practice (stand up first and then I will carry you/walk to me and then I will carry you the rest of the way), rather than forcing her to get back to walking as fast as I’d suggested. She, so beautifully, walked the line between helping her child regain her abilities, while also allowing it to unfold at her daughter’s pace.

I allowed myself to let go of my self-imposed expectation of writing a Friday newsletter and honored my own mental and emotional disequilibrium. I didn’t just give up and skip the week; I slowed down and let it unfold in its own time and way.

Is there something you’re expecting of yourself or your child right now? Something that seems very urgent and important that you could maybe, possibly, find some space to slow down around? You don’t have to let go of the expectation, but maybe you could just loosen your grip a bit? Try it. You might find something extraordinary instead.