Baby Show-off.

There’s this girl I know who is constantly showing people up. She’s not arrogant, smug, or malicious about it, she’s just noticeably, undeniably smart. And dexterous. And she can already count to ten and say most of her alphabet. And she’s 21 months old; she was born on the exact same day as my son.

Her mom has always been diligent about recording and sharing each and every milestone reached—first steps, first word (which was three syllables long, by the way), first quadratic equation. Especially so in the first twelve months of her baby’s life. And why shouldn’t she have been? These are exciting things for a brand new mom.

However, I was a brand new mom too at that point, and although I knew in theory that all kids develop at different rates, I couldn’t help but use that little girl as a kind of measuring stick for where my son should’ve been in his development. They were, after all, the exact same age. To the day. And the things a person knows in theory before they have a baby are sometimes very hard to remember after the fact.

So when this little girl said her first word at seven months, I looked over at my own baby, who was doing very normal seven month-old baby things such as Sitting There and Not Talking Yet, and wondered with a start and a flash of blinding guilt if I should’ve been teaching him words.

And so it began: my obsession with milestones.

There are countless websites and apps for this kind of obsession; the Internet is all about accommodating (encouraging?) your mom guilt, but it’s disguised as ‘education’ and ‘information.’ You can click on your baby’s age and they’ll tell you what he should be up to. They’ll give you red flags that you need to be on the lookout for and help you know what’s coming next month. It’s all very organized and neat and well-regulated. Just exactly like babies.

4-month-olds roll over, 7-month-olds crawl, 1-year-olds walk, 18-month-olds write books and do algebra. Logically, if your kid’s not hitting these milestones, it can only mean that you are a bad parent or that your child is delayed. This all makes perfect sense. I mean, human kids and teenagers and adults learn things in varying ways and paces, but as we’ve seen in regards to feeding and sleeping and discipline, human babies are all fairly formulaic and predictable. One size does indeed fit all. If your 9-month-old doesn’t fulfill all the requirements of being a 9-month-old, what are you even doing, here, mom?

I know. That sounds ridiculous, right? Well I struggle with ridiculous things.

For the entire first year of my son’s life, I paid attention to the websites and the apps and worried when my son didn’t hit the right milestones by the right dates. I watched the kids around him who were about his age and worried when they did something that he couldn’t do. I asked older, veteran moms how old their kids were when they did this or that, and took their foggy oh, that was so long ago . . . answers as the Absolute Standard by which my son should be progressing. I watched this little girl who was the exact same age as my son learn and walk and talk much faster than he did and, of course, I worried.

From what I hear, this is a thing a lot of new parents freak out about once or twice (or more, or much more, depending on your personality type), ridiculous or not.

An interesting thing, though: a lot of my friends are now on their second and third babies, and they don’t even think about checking these websites and comparing milestones anymore. I know that there’s probably the busyness factor to take into consideration, but I asked one a while back what had changed, and she shrugged and said, “I guess I just finally actually understand that all kids are different. I’m learning that a kid with a more laid-back personality might not be as eager to try new things, and it’s not something to stress out over. They usually all level out eventually. And if they don’t,” she shrugged, “you figure that out then.” She said it so calmly, like she was instructing a yoga class. She watched with only slightly raised eyebrows as her son shoved a handful of dirt into his mouth. Ah, the wisdom and cool of a second-time mother.

I hadn’t thought of thinking of milestones as a little clue to your child’s personality—that a kid might choose not to do something, not because they can’t but because they don’t care to. And what a wonder, to just enjoy the first few months of your kid’s life without worrying about what might come later.

Ultimately, though I knew that kids develop at different paces, it helped to be reminded. It’s always good to have someone remind you of things you know every once in a while, the things you forgot when your little human arrived and stripped you of all logic and reason.

It was a good thought shift for me. My worrying over my son developing at exactly the same pace as another kid was most definitely a useless expenditure of energy I could’ve been using to do laundry. I decided that it’s absolutely good to watch your kids, be aware of their milestones and all that, but anything more than awareness is kind of unnecessary.

A few days ago, the mother with the brilliant little girl I was telling you about posted a video on Facebook of her daughter doing yet another brilliant little thing. Something akin to self-potty-training or solving for x in a complicated math problem or writing an essay in cursive about, I don’t know, current events or a novel she’d read recently.

And I watched it and was impressed and thought it was cute. And then I looked over at my son, who was doing a very age-appropriate puzzle, and he looked back at me and grinned, and I thought about how nice it’s been since I stopped reading those milestone websites and comparing him to other kids. I’m thinking this will be one of those lessons I’ll need to remember for down the road. Milestones, after all, aren’t just a baby thing—they’re a toddler thing and a grade school thing and probably a teenager thing too.

My son is smart. He’s hitting all kinds of milestones and I love teaching him things, introducing him to words and numbers and shapes and colors. I have to say though: it’s an easier process when I calm down and try to understand how he learns and where he’s at, instead of going at it from what I’ve been told he should know and where I’ve been told he should be.

Written by Elena Krause. Photo by Kirsten Huculiak.