The Toddler Wobbles (or, the Tripwire of Self-Doubt)

My daughter is this close to walking.

She’s been doing the “cruising” thing for about a month now, where she’ll grab the edge of a table, or the couch, or the leg of my shorts, and just sort of shimmy along, one shaky step after another; but of course, she can only go where whatever she’s clamped onto can take her. And she’s been walking assisted for several weeks beyond that, holding gleefully to the hands of whoever has the patience and the dorsal fortitude to bend over and escort her around the house. Again, of course, she can go only where her guide takes her.

There is an unmitigated joy about her as she does any of these things. Her little stumpy legs clomp along not unlike those of the imperial walkers in Star Wars, stable enough only if everything goes according to plan. She laughs, shrieks, smiles. Then tumbles.

But she won’t walk on her own.

And I know, I know. She’ll get it in time. But there’s something frustrating and heartbreaking in seeing her shuffling along, a wobbly snowman on stilts, and knowing that she could walk if she would only decide that she had the capability.

She’s done it before.

She’ll cruise along the table for a minute, then pick up a toy and turn and totter over to the sofa — a yawning gulf of two steps or so, but a moonshot in the scope of toddlers. I’ll stand her up in the floor across from her mother, and she’ll hold my hands until she’s within a step of her mother, then detach in time to fall forward into her mom’s loving embrace. She has the strength. She has the balance. What she doesn’t have is the knowledge that she’s perfectly capable.

Now, she can crawl with the best of them. In fact, she can muster so much speed on her hands and knees that it’s a little startling: she can cross a room in just a couple of seconds, and be sitting there angelic as ever when you come back in from getting a glass of water. This, paired with her propensity (and joy) for grabbing things and sticking them in her mouth is enough, almost, to keep you from leaving the room at all when she’s around (what if she pulls the TV over on herself, or what if she swallows the dog, or what if she goes into the garage, fires up the pneumatic hammer, and takes out the retaining wall?). An inability to walk isn’t, in other words, keeping her from getting around.

But when she starts walking, she’ll be so much better off — she’ll be faster, she’ll be able to take things with her, she’ll be able to reach her hands up and hug your knee when she walks by. She needs to walk. She just won’t.

I can’t say it’s fear, because she isn’t afraid of falling. She’ll gladly pitch herself sideways while my wife or I holds her, despite the five-foot drop to the ground that surely awaits if she manages to escape. It’s as if she simply doesn’t grasp the idea that walking instead of crawling might be a better way to do it. Like cave dwellers who won’t take the ipod that’s being proffered to them, believing instead that eating worms and running from daylight is better than the natural next phase in human evolution (selfies and social media, of course). She just doesn’t realize that she’s hamstringing herself by keeping to all fours, doesn’t understand that her muscles and her sense of balance are ready for her to walk, doesn’t get how much her world is going to open up for her when she begins to walk.

She’ll get it eventually. One day — maybe tomorrow, maybe next week — she’ll shuffle off on her own and then my wife and I will really be in trouble — but until then, she’s stuck crawling, cruising, and being escorted everywhere she goes. Which works, but when you consider the alternative, is a bit lousy.

But then it got me thinking. (As such things often do.)

If my baby has the capacity to walk, but lacks the knowledge of that capacity, what am I capable of that I just haven’t grasped yet? If she’s only holding off on taking her first steps because she doesn’t realize that she can, what am I keeping myself from just because I lack the belief in myself?

How much more could we be, if we could only believe we were capable?

Are you crawling, when you should be walking?

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