Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Eight's great, but my boy doesn't look it

Today, my son is eight. I guess it's normal for parents to marvel at the passage of time and not quite believe how old their children are getting, but it's especially amazing with my little guy because he's still such a little guy. He doesn't look anywhere near eight, and that's a good thing, because he doesn't act anywhere near eight, either.

He's certainly made a world of progress since we adopted him at age 21 months, a near-two-year-old who didn't yet walk or talk. He's doing plenty of both now. His cognitive skills are surprisingly close to age-appropriate, and his language development is rapidly appoaching it. But from there, things get slippery. Fine and gross motor skills lag significantly, and emotionally, socially, and behaviorally, he's still pretty much off the charts.

His inabilities in those areas are noticeable to anybody who spends much time with him, but not as noticeable as they would be if he really did look eight. And to strangers -- well, I can't quite imagine that the people who think it's so cute when he asks for their keys and identifies the kind of car they drive would be quite so charmed if they knew that that very precocious preschooler they thought they were talking to was really in second grade.

Or the folks in church last weekend who saw us struggling to keep him from moving too much and making noise, and who offered a smile and a "he's fine." Did they think, "There's an eight-year-old laying stretched out on the pew, rolling around, singing songs during prayer time, putting his hands down his pants ... but that's okay, his parents should calm down." Somehow, I think not. He does the best he can within the stressful situation of forced stillness and silence, and we do the best we can to help him. Goodness knows I'm grateful when people appear to be understanding ... but my heart sinks a bit when I think what they'd say if they knew his true age.

There have been some leaps forward this past year. He's started noticing what his friends at school are doing and wanting what they have. He's stopped watching Nick Jr. and started watching Snick. He seems to be acquiring some genuine feelings, or at least imitating them more skillfully. He's picking out clothes and dressing himself, doing his homework with a small degree of independence, helping with chores. He's coming along.

And he is growing; the distance between his pants hems and his sneaker tops attests to that. He's looking less and less babyish and more and more boyish. But eight? No, he doesn't look eight. And I hope that his appearance stays behind is age level for as long as it takes for his many developmental stages to get in synch. It helps him get away with a lot, and goodness knows he needs every advantage. We'll still put eight candles on his cake.

Happy birthday, small boy.

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