parents

'My daughter is two and a half and can't walk. Stop asking me about it.'

Waiting for the pitter-patter of tiny feet.

Some people marry for money. I married for feet. My husband has the most beautifully normal feet I have ever seen. They connect to a strong physical structure ready for any sport. My own feet are pathetic. Totally flat. My ankles roll in, my knees are weak and my balance is poor.

When I fell pregnant, I didn’t care about gender, all I hoped was that our child would inherit my husband’s feet. When our daughter Asher first arrived it was too early to tell. But now, two years later, there’s no doubt that unfortunately she has inherited my inferior make-up.

What sort of evolutionary system passes on crap stuff when it has good genes available?

my daughter isn't walking
Asher and her dad. Image: supplied.

I was a late walker at 22 months, but Asher is taking lateness to a new level. Now aged 2 and a quarter she still can’t walk by herself.

Asher first rolled at six months – and then didn’t bother again for another year. She always hated tummy time. Her favourite pose was being coiled up in a foetal position.

Sometime after her first birthday, Asher began a genteel crawl on her bottom while flapping her little hands beside her like a crab. This we call ‘bum-shuffling’. (For the uninitiated, bum-shuffling is when a child scoots about on their bottom. There are a number of variations and they all look pretty ridiculous.)

Although Asher is slow to her feet, she is now mighty fast on her bum. And unlike regular crawlers, she can carry things in her hands – so she doesn’t feel she’s missing out on anything by not walking. When she’s travelling fast she shouts excitedly, ‘I’m running!’

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my daughter isn't walking
Asher. Image: Supplied.

We take Asher to kinder gym to encourage enthusiasm for movement, but we spend most of our time wrecking our backs bouncing her up and down on the trampoline.

Seeing other kids walking doesn’t affect her motivation. She’ll say: “Look mummy, Ted’s jumping,” and laugh. Often, her friends get down on their bums and copy her. They’re intrigued. “You’ll see,” people say, “one day she’ll just get up and walk.” Not our girl. I feel like we’ve watched every muscle develop in real time.

It’s normal and average to walk any time from nine to 18 months. I hoped Asher would be walking by 21 months when our second child was born. I thought that my husband’s genetic input would help her walk a little earlier than I did.

Instead, her chosen form of transport has made her walk even later. Bum-shuffling doesn’t develop the core strength that regular crawling does. And learning to walk without core strength is tricky. Each stage is taking much longer for Asher than it would for the average kid.

Before I had children I had no idea about developmental milestones. I didn’t know there would be regular appointments with nurses where measurements are taken and percentiles awarded. I know the intention is to identify children who aren’t thriving – but I can’t help feeling it’s a bit fascist. Much of what is being measured is innate and can’t be changed. Labelling children with percentile marks only adds to our anxieties.

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As an academic high-achiever I don’t like to be told that my daughter is lagging behind, though undoubtedly she is. I admit that I am defensive. Because we now find ourselves outside the limit of any ‘normal’ measures and there has been pressure to find an explanation. Over the last year I have been referred to a pediatrician, an occupational therapist, a physiotherapist and even a psychologist.

The pediatrician says the reason for the delay is my genetic legacy compounded by not crawling. I agree. Thankfully, Asher’s blood tests show no kidney, thyroid or muscle tone problems. And according to our pediatrician, it’s unlikely she has cerebral palsy or a genetic disorder.

The therapists we’ve seen have suggested exercise drills and strategies to adopt. Often these appointments just increase the sense of delay and disappointment, rather like going on a series of awkward blind dates when the truth is, your soul mate will turn up in their own time. It’s hard to make an infant do frequent enough exercises to make a difference. I think eventually her muscle strength will accumulate through her natural movement to support her being able to walk.

my daughter isn't walking
Asher and her mum Sara. Image: Supplied.

When your child falls outside the norm, everyone wants to know why. Of course I’m relieved there’s nothing seriously wrong with Asher. But perversely, if we had a medical diagnosis people wouldn’t question me in the same way.

Many people have suggested that Asher’s personality contributes to the delay. She is equal parts smart, stubborn and cautious. Perhaps she enjoys her lack of independence? Who wouldn’t want to be carried when there’s a new sibling to compete with?

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Over the months Asher has evolved new methods to ensure she gets picked up. It started with asking for cuddles, then pretending to be stuck between our legs. Now she issues instructions about where she wants to go. At times I’ve felt as though she’s riding me like a horse.

Friends joke that Asher can walk, but is enjoying dragging this thing out. Sometimes I wonder if she’s doing cartwheels behind my back.

my daughter isn't walking
Asher. Image: Supplied.

In recent weeks, Asher has started to take steps while holding our hands. She’s improving, but the rate of progress is painfully slow. She’s had a few moments of standing up briefly unaided. But it’s still taking longer than anyone expected.

I adore my stubborn little inactive girl. Her lack of movement has given us lots of time to sit together, read books and talk about imaginary worlds. While I wish I could have provided a better genetic footprint, I love her quirks. And I admire her obliviousness to the pressure to conform. Asher is a kid who marches to the beat of her own drum. Well, she will march to her own drum. When she’s good and ready.

*Editor’s Note: Sara has let us know that Asher has just started to walk in the last few days, aged 27 months. 

Sara Tiefenbrun is a factual television writer, producer and director. She spent ten years at the BBC in London before relocating to Melbourne in 2009. Sara is a member of faculty at The School of Life Australia, and teaches “How To Make Sense Of Your Family”.

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