Sunday, December 11, 2011
How much of life do we learn at the table? How to eat and chew and swallow solid food. How to use a fork, chopsticks, our fingers, bread and spoon. How to recognize social nuance, the changes in tone, how to elevate and support gaiety and conviviality. How to give thanks, appreciate and be appreciated. We learn how to take our seat, claim our space, walk the balance between being independent, self sufficient and yet part of the collective, the whole.
There is a phase of early toddler hood where the child wants to do everything themselves, even though they can't quite do it yet. And that is why they want to, they must try in order to learn. To master drinking from a glass each human must spill many, many glasses. Part of being a parent is tolerating the time and the mess, the frustration and the exalted satisfaction of learning.
Colby has just entered this phase. I wasn't sure what was happening at first. We sat down to dinner as we always do, the bowl between us, the fork more to my side than hers. We held hands and said thank you and then, her favorite part, our raucous cheers.
I went to feed her the first forkful and she pursed her lips and moved her head away, leaning back in her chair. She is often time consuming to feed, she is never in a hurry, which I enjoy, it keeps us all at the table rather than rushing through a meal. She likes things in a certain order, but you never know what the order will be. She only recently started reaching for her glass when she wants water and that was a huge hallelujah moment, not having to guess, having her tell you what she wants.
I took a forkful of something else and she pursed her lips. Over and over. I was done with my meal by now. Coral then finished. Finally, Colby reached onto her plate, picked up a piece of meat with her whole palm and put it in her mouth. She turned to me with a triumphant gaze and I saw in a lightening bolt of recognition: she wanted to feed herself. She is six and a half. We have never had this moment.
Sometimes she will feed herself but it is more of a "I really want that raisin so I'll pick it up and get it myself" direction of the will. This dinner was the first time she would not eat until she was in control. She had reached a major developmental milestone. Had she been two it would have been immediately recognizable, the turning away, the pursed lips, the refusal until in control.
A very tall child with braids to her waist and missing front teeth, it took quite a while for me to make the connection. My body rushed with adrenaline, my heart filled with pride and the disbelief all parents feel when you actually see your child change before your very eyes.
I put several pieces of food in a row on the table in front of her. She ate quickly, decisively, smiling with her cheeks full of food. She was extremely pleased. Pleased with her ability and I feel like too with her ability to communicate her desire.
That is one of the challenges with a child who is developing outside the time line of a pediatric checklist of milestones. You never know when you are going to see the emergence of a skill, or if you ever will.
At the table I learned something. I learned to always keep my mind open. I learned to look each day at these growing children and say, "Who are you today?" What do you need? What do you want? How do I support you in your path of learning, around this table, in this life we share together? I learned again the beautiful relief in independence, of knowing the child you are raising can in part, or in full, know what they want, and get it.