I really don't understand anything about anything. It's a good thing I'm comfortable with following intuition. There is no reason to think that making a video would cause accelerated development in a four-year old but that's what happened. Echo and I made the nursing video, from the last post, where she talked about missing nursing. Within that video we sort of stumbled upon the idea that we could hold each other in an intense purposeful way in order to substitute for the connection she was missing from nursing. Then we pressed Stop and went about our day. I held her more, we fell in love just a little more, and there were smiles all around.
But then she mentioned she wanted a "Goodbye Milky" party, a celebration of no longer nursing. I was taken a bit aback since it had been ten months since she last nursed. But it turns out she hadn't wanted a party because she still thought of herself as a nurser, even though there wasn't any nursing going on. After making the video and establishing what we would do instead of nursing she was ready to think of herself differently. She wanted a party.
Well a party means a cake and so that's just what we made. I thought we'd cobble together a little something from the baking drawer but she was very specific and before I knew it I was committed to a two-tier chocolate cake with strawberry filling and salty caramel icing. It felt silly to be going all-out in the middle of the week to celebrate something that happened almost a year ago but I went with it and I'm glad.
Because part of the lesson here is that rites of passage are important. Making an actual "deal" of no longer nursing meant that we marked a passage in little Echo's life. Where before we sort of tiptoed around the idea of Echo not nursing in deference to her sadness about it, we were now congratulating her and celebrating with her a whole new girl. I didn't think it would have that big an effect, but it did.
She was proud.
And she felt older. At one point in the afternoon she went into the art closet and conferred with her imaginary step-mom Mama Pom Pom and emerged, according to her, two years older. She was four before the party, and six after the party. By bedtime she was seven and by the next day, seventeen. Pretty cute.
So I've been thinking about rites of passage and sort of renewing my commitment to acknowledging them in our family. I am reminded that first and last days of school are important, weaning is important, birthdays are important, losing a tooth is important, etc. But I also can't help but notice that it might only feel like an official rite, something to celebrate, when the child crosses it herself. Crossing the finish line doesn't feel that celebratory when one is thrown across the line by someone else. And Echo's pace, well it's been pretty darn slow. So slow that I forgot there was even a finish line she was moving toward.
That's the part I know nothing about, what form development can take if given the opportunity to evolve on it's own, without "shoulds" and nudges from the parents. Hmmm.
But here's the other part I am surprised by: not only did Echo grow older from her rite of passage, it seems that her brain opened up to new information and growth as well. It sounds funny but I'm not kidding. Over the last two days this girl has been screaming through new skills and information. She learned to tell time, for instance. She learned to count quickly to one hundred and beyond. She can now write every letter and every number on her own. She can identify new, long words, on site. And last night in the span of five minutes she learned to count money, adding quarters and nickels and dimes like it's old hat. Before last night she hadn't known that coins had different value at all.
I guess I am taking home a couple different messages with this one. Kids develop at the rate that is appropriate for them and it doesn't necessarily coincide with anyone else's rate. And, it seems that readiness to learn new things is dependent on factors that we cannot see, gauge, or easily guess at. For Echo, having another comfort method to reach for when the old method retired, allowed her brain to expand. Security is essential for learning, I knew that, for instance if you want your child to feel confident in exploring the world it's important to give him a solid nest from which to leap, but I didn't know the "solid nest" part could be so sensitive or subtle, and I didn't know that the effects of shoring up the nest could be so profound.
ps. After conferring with Nathan I wanted to say that Echo indeed has been practicing reading and counting (except money) so it wasn't as if she woke up one day and could do something completely foreign, but more like there was an extremely sudden "snapping together" of connections which made the application of what she's been learning instantaneous.