As baby steps become giant leaps

By Julie Marsh

My younger daughter lost her first tooth last week.

This is the same daughter who will start kindergarten in August, who’s been riding a bike without training wheels since Thanksgiving, who proudly identifies sight words and spends hours painstakingly creating works of art with any craft supplies she can find. The same daughter who was a newborn when we moved to Colorado, who screamed instead of speaking for her first three years, who consistently hit developmental milestones late and drove me to bury my copies of “What to Expect…” on the basement bookshelves.

My older daughter has had her share of struggles, and I know there are many more to come, but I’ve always been able to gauge her progress, her readiness for the challenges ahead. I’m confident that she’s gaining the skills she needs to be successful.

My younger daughter worries me. Our journey together thus far has been one of baby steps. Many times it has been excruciating.

But she also has the capacity to surprise and delight me in ways that differ from her big sister’s steady trek onward and upward. At the most unexpected times, she will demonstrate that she too grasps those essential skills I’ve been trying to teach her, unsure of how successful I’ve been. It’s like an exam for which you studied endlessly but still felt unprepared to take, only to discover that you got an A. When she makes an abstract connection or attempts to spell new words without asking for help or interprets what others are feeling, I’m overjoyed to share in her success. Even if she doesn’t realize the significance of it, I do.

She’s lying next to me as I type. I look down at her and still see the toddler who shrieked as she flung herself onto the ground and banged her head against the concrete, unable to communicate with us in any other way. Now she has all the words she needs, and she knows how to use them – with us, with her classmates and teachers, with our neighbors, with anyone who comes to our door or calls us on the phone. She’s utterly charming.

I still worry. But as I observe her burgeoning independence, asserting itself more each day, I worry less. Both she and I are doing something right.

There are no sure-fire how-to manuals where it comes to kids – not on gestating them, birthing them, or raising them to be solid, upstanding citizens who pay their own bills. So I look upon parenting books – and the experts who write them – with suspicion.

It’s always so refreshing to discover a common sense approach, one that reassures me I’m on the right track, even when I can’t yet tell whether my kids are beside me. NurtureShock had that effect on me, and so does Ellen Galinsky’s Mind in the Making.

I haven’t yet read her entire book, but the seven essential life skills in her right sidebar (scroll down a bit) are in perfect alignment with what my husband and I strive to teach our kids. Instead of obsessing over milestones or breaking the bank with academic enrichment, we seek everyday opportunities to teach and reinforce these very skills.

That’s why I was genuinely excited to write about what we’re teaching our kids (and hey, it gave me an opportunity to brag about how far my big girl has come), and why I immediately accepted Emily McKhann’s invitation to guest host today’s Talk with Ellen Galinsky at

Please join us – ask questions, share your experiences, solicit input. It doesn’t matter whether your kids are infants or young adults – as Ellen noted in Lisa Belkin’s NYT column: “[I]t’s never too late, that everyday is a new day in being a parent. Most of us want to do the best we can as parents, whatever the ages of our children.”

This piece is cross-posted from Julie Marsh’s blog TheMomSlant. Besides being one of our favorite bloggers, Julie is former Air Force officer and music industry project manager, Julie now lives outside Denver with her husband and three young children.


Photo/image by: chasing butterflies – Tory / Flickr