When you bring a baby home from the hospital, all the baby books say you should do something called “tummy time.” It means you should let the baby spend a little time on his tummy when he’s awake. Tummy time helps the baby strengthen the muscles in his neck, shoulders and upper body – muscles he’ll use to sit up on his own one day. There’s only one problem with tummy time: Babies hate it.
Because the baby hates it, parents tend to hate it, too. I remember watching my babies the first few times I put them down on their tummies. They’d squirm and struggle to lift their giant heads. They’d turn their face to one side, furrow their brow, grunt, whimper and then eventually cry after only a few minutes of being in this “beached whale” position on the living room floor. It was hard to watch.
My maternal instincts would yell “Pick her up! Hold her! Comfort her! Make it easier.” But that’s not the point of tummy time. The point is to get stronger so the baby can one day help herself.
After an initial “I hate this” period, babies get used to tummy time and even come to love it when they figure out how to roll.
My three kids are now 14, 11, and 9 – many years past tummy time – but, in a strange way, I feel like we’re going through a second phase of it as we teach them how to take care of themselves. In only four short years, our oldest will leave the nest and, if we haven’t taught him properly, he’ll nosedive right out of it or make a U-turn and fly straight back.
So my new maternal mantra is “life skills,” and right now I’m focusing on three main areas: food, clothing, and shelter.
Food: I stopped packing lunches. These days, if the kid doesn’t want to eat what the school cafeteria is serving, the kid packs his or her own lunch. But a bag full of jellybeans and Pringles doesn’t count. (They tried it.) They’ve also learned how to make a simple dinner, and they’re getting pretty good at hosting Taco Tuesdays.
Clothing: Slowly, they’re learning to use the washer and dryer. I posted detailed instructions for how to wash whites, darks and towels, and we make them do a load on their own at least once a week. (Note: If you try this at your house, be sure to write the words “EMPTY ALL POCKETS” in bold, capital letters, lest you find shredded tissues and gum wrappers in every load.)
Shelter: I’m beginning to wonder if they’ll ever master the art of cleaning up after themselves. I still find stray socks all over the house, which I believe is part of their secret plan to drive me insane. (Almost there, kids!)
Last weekend, we had them help us rip old carpet out of a room, prep the walls, paint and then move furniture back into place. They didn’t really know what they were doing. They got frustrated easily. We heard quite a few grunts and whimpers, and they definitely didn’t like it.
As I watched them furrow their brow and grudgingly work at it, I flashed back to those “tummy time” days when they strained to hold their heads up. Then I flashed forward to a vision of the future, when they might need to rip old carpet out of their own fixer-upper house.
So despite the moaning and groaning, we forged ahead and they learned a few things. The experience made me realize that the real struggle for me will be allowing our kids to struggle. Part of me desperately wants to step in and manage the world for them – to make things easier.
But those of us who are a few decades past “tummy time” know that life doesn’t always serve up a big plate of easy. And during those times, it’s important to know how to carry on, work hard and hold your head up.
Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.