A few months later, we received a donated Mulholland Walkabout of our very own to use at home. Despite our preferred therapy of the Anat Baniel Method (ABM) being generally against equipment like walkers, we did use it at home.
Malachi would stand in it and go... pretty much nowhere.
I was very conscious of not wanting to push him to walk in it. This was a concession to an ABM tenant, which I do believe. It goes something like this: people don't like to be pushed to do things. The more you push, the more they will resist and the less they will do it when you are not there to push. This includes kids.
But, you say, I forced my kid through kicking and screaming to do piano lessons at 4 and now he's a virtuoso!
Well, the vast majority of kids who are forced to do piano lessons (or whatever) quit as soon as they are able. The ones who keep going? They do it because they want to, either because they found a way for it to be fun or because they want to please you. That's it. So, if you *really* want your kid to be a piano virtuoso — and be happy doing it — find a way to make the piano fun and they will practice on their own.
But, you say, life is hard work! Kids should learn how to do things they don't want to do.
To that I say, kids should learn how to do things they don't want to do only if it is in pursuit of a goal of something they do want to do. Hey there, sport, is it your deepest dream to become a piano virtuoso? Yes? Then by golly, let's play the crap out of that piano. Would you rather be an airplane pilot? Sweet! In that case, let's spend hours learning all about instrument flight ratings. Working hard at something you don't want to do to get to more hard work that you don't want to do just becomes a never-ending defeatist, depressing cycle.
So, I tried — as much as my own psychology would allow — to only put Malachi in the walker when he wanted to be in it and take him out when he said he was done. While I did ensure certain activities — like watering the plants or "playing" Dance Central on the Wii — were associated with being in the walker, I tried really hard not to push him to walk in it.
For months, I fiddled with settings and footwear; I lugged it to children's museums and splash pads; I interrogated moms and therapists. All to no avail. The most Malachi would do is inadvertently twirl it around and be really upset about it.
By the end, the conclusion I felt most likely was that it was my fault. Even though I was trying really hard not to treat the walker like a big deal, he could clearly sense that I wanted him to use it. I was putting too much pressure on him and he didn't want to try and fail.
(Corroborating evidence to this effect is in JJ's continued refusal to make even the slightest effort towards learning how to get dressed by himself. We're working on it.)
But one day — in a fit of WTF??? rage — I showed the above video to my husband and he said: "Yeah, that's really weird that he could walk in it before." Then he said: "Look, his shoulders are in front of his body."
Oh. I didn't think about that. I was too busy blaming myself for bad parenting.
The very next day, I loosened the top strap so that Malachi's upper body sort of hung on it, instead of strapping him in tight and secure like I had been doing.
He took off immediately.
It wasn't all swelling music and tears of joy though. He would get his feet stuck together and start to freak out, so to get his mind off what he was doing, I grabbed a soft, stuffed ball and "threw it" (handed it) to him and got him to walk a few paces to me to give it back. We played "hall ball" all over the place for 15 minutes. Here's him at the end of all this, the FIRST TIME he was able to walk around at home by himself.
Do you hear what he's saying? "Walk! Turn around!" He knew exactly where he was going and how to get there. (By the way, where he was going is the oven to check the clock. The kid loves numbers.)
Two weeks later, I took him to Target to try him out in a larger, yet familiar space. The kid was RUNNING:
Just a few short weeks ago, I was feeling pretty hopeless. I posted in an ABM forum asking if people whose kids couldn't sit up independently before age 2 ever acquired the ability to walk, either supported or not. Conventional medical studies say no. Several people on the ABM forum said yes.
Still. I was doubtful that Malachi would ever independently move around in anything but a power wheelchair.
Today, I feel like I have a whole new horizon for Malachi. He is getting more and more capable in his walker and learning so much about how to move in a physical plane. He can stop, back up a little, turn either direction and is walking much straighter. (It's worth noting that all of his practice is at grocery stores and malls, flat, well-lit places he considers to be fun and functional.)
This has translated into much more bravery and independence with his electric car, his crawler and independent floor movement.
I am trying hard now to avoid beating myself up for not loosening the top strap eight months ago. Malachi is doing so well in the walker, but I can also see how he is developing some bad habits and incorrect assumptions about how his body interacts with gravity, such as toe-walking. I think it was good for him to have those eight months to roll around on the ground, learning about his spine, and to practice pulling to stand beautifully on flat feet with my help.
I do feel like we will be able to weave current skills like flat feet into his walking habits eventually. But even if he does acquire lifelong bad habits that will stunt his development later, as ABM contends, I feel like it's time for our family to broaden our focus away from pure physical development and towards social and emotional development. Now that he is in preschool, I think it is the perfect time for him to start being independently upright even though he can't get there by himself yet.
So, I may not totally agree with ABM's interdiction against using equipment, but I do agree that the key to success is working smarter, not harder.