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Doin' The Safety Dance

With the advent of independent mobility on Maddie’s part, life has become more . . . hectic, shall we say.
We’ve watched her do her hiney scooch for a couple months now, parallel parking herself wherever she wanted to go.  But we obviously got advance warning – it’s hard not to know what she’s up to when you see her spinning herself around and gauging distances intently over her shoulder - so we were able to anticipate dangers and head them off before they occurred.
Now that she’s honest-to-goodness crawling, it’s anyone’s guess where she’ll end up.  She spent a couple of very focused days learning how to do the three-point turn: crawl, sit back on her fanny, lean to the other side and crawl in another direction.  So she’s no longer even directionally challenged.  And while the pulling up to standing is still dependent on having something the right height and strength, it’s rapidly improving as well.  We want to give baby girl freedom to explore, figure things out for herself, test her balance sitting and moving, but it wars with our need to hover and make sure she doesn’t poke an eye out.

And Maddie’s at the age where she looks to you for a cue on what she’s feeling – no pressure, mom!  So I sit on the couch with feigned nonchalance, watching her out of the corner of my eye.  She glances occasionally at me, seeking permission to move around and explore.  When I don’t jump in, she takes off.  When she hits a roadblock – a trapped leg underneath her, or slippery socks, for example – she looks  at me to see if 1) it’s serious, and requires crying, and if 2) I’ll fix it.  Realizing that 1) it can’t be because Mommy doesn’t look concerned, and 2) I won’t, she tries to fix it herself.  You can almost see the baby gears go to problem-solving mode:  leg swung out from underneath or slippery feet finally given pushing purchase, she continues triumphantly on, glancing back less and less as her confidence grows and she becomes more engrossed in her discoveries (usually hair balls).
And that’s where my job gets tougher.  I can’t hover behind her – she’ll stay too aware of me, want me to play with her and help her out of jams.  And I can’t stare intently, anticipating disaster – she’ll sense that and get worried.  But I have to be prepared to leap into action in a split second, and more important, make it look like it’s some sort of fun game.  Holding on to the coffee table and falling over sideways?  Wheee!  Mommy jumps in and it’s a fun dance dip, with swoops and smiles and kisses.  Cruising towards the scissors left on a low shelf?  Whoopee – Mommy sweeps us off our feet and we dance around the room.  Crawling towards the electrical cords?  Mommy cuts in and we scooch another direction.
Because any sign of panic or worry on my face – AARGH!  Sharp scissors one foot from my daughter’s perfected pincer grasp and beautiful blue eye! – and Maddie will realize she was almost in danger and begin to worry and cry.  If I catch her mid-fall and she sees my fear, she becomes afraid.  I want to encourage her independence; I want to make her comfortable and not need me behind her to give her courage.  So we do this elaborate little safety dance, Maddie exploring new frontiers and challenging her little body to balance longer and work harder, and Mommy coming behind and making a game of all her near misses.
Don’t worry – we’re working on babyproofing right now, and that will make our home a safer place for her to explore.  And I know that a fear or wariness of some things – hot stoves, for example – is good; I don’t want to raise her in a bubble unaware of life’s dangers.  But I’m reluctant to get in the way of her discovery, and I don’t want her afraid of something just because she hasn’t tried it yet and doesn’t know what will happen.  I’m happy she’s gaining confidence, and proud that she trusts me without a second thought to watch over her and know I’ll keep her safe.
So we do our safety dance, and I pretend not to be petrified of life’s slings and arrows (and errant electrical outlets).
Which means that if you see us out and about and spy me happily chatting with a friend while loosely holding Maddie back with apparent nonchalance, don’t worry.
It’s all an act.


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