Early Days, Part I: Finding Georgia’s Will

Floppy Ears

Georgia was a fabulous baby.

Mellow, easygoing, and not at all particular about what she ate or what she played with. If you gave her Cheerios, she’d eat them. Smashed up peas? Devoured! She didn’t have a favourite blanket or best-loved toy so there were none of those anxious moments that other parents experience, the tearful discovery that, Oh no! “Pooh-bear” or “blankie” has been forgotten!

After Georgia was born, I was writing up my PhD and I remember having conversations with other moms who were commenting on “how lucky” I was to have such an easygoing infant when I had to be working so hard. In a selfish way, I felt that they were right. Many nights I’d write late into the night with Georgia at my feet in an infant chair, my foot rocking her back and forth. She’d watch me quietly and then doze. I’d write and all was well in the world.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? I realize that I was fooling myself about how lucky I was and to add to that, I was so busy working part time and writing up a PhD, that while I provided Georgia with plenty of love and care, I was mostly just simply thankful for her way of being in the world that made my days easier.

But thankfulness gave way to worry, fairly quickly. It’s funny: that intuitive sense that people talk about mothers having doesn’t hit you all at once. You don’t actually feel yourself becoming more intuitive getting used to a new baby — in  fact most of the time you feel like you’re barely muddling along.

But I began to worry about Georgia’s mellow nature. I wanted her to have preferences and dislikes. I wanted her to object to mushy squash or ask for a cookie. I wanted demands and stamping feet. I longed for a tantrum and wished for peas on the wall. I hoped to share those goofy little stories with other moms about “Oh, Georgia and her well-loved blankie” and fill the picture albums with photos of her dragging her favourite teddy bear down the hall. No such luck.

This lack of will, as I would call it now, began to nag at me. At the same time, Georgia wasn’t meeting any of her developmental milestones. She needed to be propped up to sit, at six months and still at eight months.

We knew, from birth, that she was hypotonic (literally meaning “low tone”) but the effects of the lack of tone really began to be noticeable in the latter part of her first year, when she wasn’t able to sit up on her own and she stayed exactly where I put her on the floor to play – only because she made no attempts to crawl or move around or seek anything out other than what was passively within reach. She barely rolled over in bed and needed pillows for propping-up in her high chair, without which she’d seriously slip down into the chair, within minutes.

Our pediatrician, who had met Georgia at birth when he was covering the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, recommended that she get physiotherapy at Sick Kids. We started to go there once a week and met Barb, who really changed our lives and became a good friend to me and what I would call a kind of “culture broker” for Georgia. Barb, an occupational therapist, who provided a mix of occupational therapy and physical therapy, taught me a lot about my own child.

She truly understood Georgia, could communicate with her in a particular way, and seriously tease her. Most of all, she knew how to press Georgia’s buttons and to make her work, to make her want something and to make her, well, sometimes really, really frustrated. While she was, on paper, providing physical therapy to help Georgia to learn how to sit up and to move through her world, what she actually did was teach me how to begin to understand, motivate and engage Georgia in the world around her.

Chillin'

She taught me about how important it was to “get down on the floor” with Georgia and engage her at her level. By doing this, I was also instructed to force her to choose a toy, to not hand her anything but rather insist that she reach for it and most importantly, to do every task herself. Her lack of objections and preferences meant that she would be quite content with a cracker and a few toys within her reach and for a while, I had thought that was just fine. Barb showed me that, nope, this wasn’t just fine and then helped me discover, or rather uncover, Georgia’s will.

One night, Georgia wanted to reach the tap in the tub to play with the water while she was having a bath. Instead of picking her up and plunking her nearer to the tap as I had been doing for months, I sat back on my hands and watched with some anxiety. It was difficult, watching her struggle and become frustrated. The simple (but obviously not as simple as we might assume) act of motor planning to decide how to move from one end of a slippery tub to another is a veritable feat. It took her more time than I could almost stand, and she was a mix of angry, confused and frustrated. She wanted that tap! While I watched and agonized, I also quietly smiled to myself. That anger, that frustration – there it was! Georgia wanted something. She was struggling to get it and discovering the sweetness of triumph over her environment and the thrill of putting your hands on something you want. Victory!

So it seemed that despite my worries, Georgia did have a strong will. And strong motivation, wants, preferences. In a way, it was uncovered then and has only grown more and more. She’ll take as long as it takes to awkwardly climb on a too-small hobbyhorse to ride it. These days, if we forget her favourite book when we’re out, there may well be a serious crisis. She carries last year’s class picture with her almost everywhere we go. For years, we also carried a Toronto Police Mounted Unit horse trading card (the fabulous horse “Vimy Ridge”) with us on trips to the grocery store and on long vacations.

Georgia very much prefers a mustard and mayo sandwich, thank you very much, and would choose salad or sushi over any candy. We’ve read the same bedtime story, at her request, for a few years now. We now have stamping feet and outright refusals alongside constant requests for a preferred toy or book, accompanied by “pleeeeeeeease! I need it!!!”

And those around Georgia now understand this. We buy four copies of a favourite book so we always have one at hand. We never run out of mayo and we ask police officers we encounter if they happen to have any horse trading cards on them (which, of course, works better some times and not so great other times).

We’ve embraced her will and motivation. We want it to continue to flourish and have actually taken it on as a challenge. She used to love (and I mean, really love) one of those talking toy parrots named Squawkers McGraw.

Jan16-2

After a few months of constant play, Squawkers began to break down and we discovered, much to our horror, thatSquawkers was no longer manufactured. The tears. The tears! So we searched for “replacement” used Squawkers on eBay and Craigslist, which were delivered from all over the world and arrived in various conditions ranging from a pristine, gently-used parrot to one more streetwise parrot who arrived missing both his feet and smelling of cigarettes and alcohol.

We went through those parrots the way other houses go through toilet paper. When we moved house last year, we were amused (and impressed with ourselves) to find a total of six hidden Squawkers in hidden throughout the house “for emergency parrot needs,” including the streetwise ruffian parrot with no feet for moments of desperation. Georgia’s will has obviously met its match.

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