When I first met my kids, they were utterly incompetent. They couldn't make their lunches, let alone hold up their own heads. I had to do everything for them from feeding them, moving them from one place to the next, and changing their diapers. They offered me very little in the way of support, but their worlds were so small that the assistance I gave was almost manageable.
A few months after we met, their abilities increased. They learned how to hold up their heads, move around, sort of feed themselves (if I laid it out in teeny tiny pieces because their inability to not choke wasn't fully fleshed out). With this came an expanded world, which meant the breadth of my assistance expanded. Suddenly, they demanded specific toys and needed help opening things that their undeveloped fine motor skills couldn't manage. A few months after that, they figured out how to speak so they could start making incessant and endless demands regardless of what Greg and I happen to be doing. They didn't (and still don't) care if we're sleeping or peeing, they need to find the picture they drew two months ago (that we most likely threw out within hours of it being created) NOW.
As my kids develop, it's hard for me to determine whether they still need my help with certain things. It's all a guessing game for me because, in my mind, they're both the tiny neonates who couldn't even see me with their new eyes and middle-aged humans.
When Darla was around two years old, I thought she could get herself dressed. I quickly realized, based on the extreme meltdowns and the pants worn as shirts, that she wasn't ready for such responsibility. I went back to dressing her and, next thing you know, she was a six-year-old whose mother still groomed her. One might argue that I did it for far too long, but I was driving on automatic and forgot to reevaluate my methodology quarterly. She used to be unable to even look at me without going cross-eyed, how was I supposed to know she should be dressing herself before her kindergarten graduation?
Throughout my life, I have gleaned information about developmental milestones and age-appropriate abilities and stored the data in the deep recesses of my brain. When I was ten, my sister was a nanny for two tan, tow-headed boys, one three and one four. One day, while at the beach with them, my sister ushered all of us into the bathroom.
"Wipe my butt," the four-year-old yelled from inside his stall. My sister sighed deeply and went in to fulfill his demand.
Later that evening, at family dinner, my sister recounted how the four-year-old couldn't wipe his own ass. My family laughed, and all agreed that child was a Little Prince. I listened and absorbed the information that four-year-olds should clean their own butts.
When I became a parent of a four-year-old boy myself, I applied that logic and left Jude to his own devices in the bathroom. After skid-mark stains had affected every pair of underwear, I realized that maybe a four-year-old isn't actually that good at wiping his own bottom. I went back to helping him.
So here I am, a mother of a five and seven-year-old. Two children who are growing and evolving every day, sometimes quickly sometimes slowly, and I'm left to wonder whether I'm pushing them to be independent in certain areas too rapidly and other regions too slowly. I guess I can only hope that maybe they won't need me to cut up their food into little pieces and help them open drawers by the time they're 18. Or maybe, I should just read the emails that BabyCenter has been sending me for the past seven years and find out precisely of what my children are capable.