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Parenting Traps

A milestone missed

Most parents can’t be there all the time. Does it matter?

By Jenna Russell
January 3, 2010

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I must have known it would happen one day. I even joked about it when I gave my husband a videorecorder for Father’s Day: “You can film all the milestones I miss while I’m at work.”

Ha-ha.

A teacher, he was home for the summer with our daughter. She was 6 months, then 7, then 8, gearing up to crawl and taking her sweet time about it. Every night he reported on her progress: She was putting her weight forward on her hands. She was rocking back and forth like a sprinter at the ready.

I imagined she would crawl at last on a Sunday, her parents at ease with newspapers and coffee. Surely, it would just work out that way.

Then came a Tuesday when I worked late. At home, the baby was in bed. “Did she play with her new blocks?” I asked my husband. He reached for the videorecorder. The screen beeped to life, a tiny image of my sunlit living room, the multicolored blocks in a tower on the floor. Three feet away, the baby revved and lunged.

“She liked the blocks so much, she crawled to them,” he said. And there it was on-screen, in miniature -- my baby, on the move. Silly or not, it felt like a loss, and it stung.

Marc and Amy Vachon, authors of the forthcoming book Equally Shared Parenting: Rewriting the Rules for a New Generation of Parents, offer some balm. Some firsts are spontaneous, but others can be planned, they point out -- the first trip to the zoo, the first ice cream cone. Even simpler is being grateful that your partner witnessed the milestone and that you can share in the joy and excitement when you get home.

“Our culture puts inordinate emphasis on events rather than relationships, such as the wedding rather than the marriage,” the Vachons write in an e-mail. A first like crawling “is nice to witness,” they continue, “but a second or third or fourth is just as special.”

Any time now my daughter will start walking. Let’s just hope the camera -- and my sense of perspective -- are ready.

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