Remember when we all hovered over our babies waiting for them to smile, sit up, crawl, walk, or talk? Some of us probably sized up our kid with all the other kids in playgroup, or constantly checked BabyCenter to see when our babies should have a pincer grasp or eat solids or be expected to sleep through the night. All those developmental milestones are encouraging to parents, but I venture to say they aren't as important as the real milestones of young childhood. Like:
Learning to wipe her/his own butt. At a meeting with teachers before Bunny started kindergarten two years ago, the teachers said that they expected the kids to be able to handle all their own potty needs. All. So the next day, I bought a box of Kandoos and went to town teaching eager-to-learn and independent-minded Bunny proper bum-wiping skills. Two days later, she was solid. Wallie, on the other hand, refuses to even try and starts to cry when I mention it. We have a whole summer to work on it. Wish me luck. I'm going to need it.
Clicking her/his own seatbelt. At age four, I taught my kids to click their own seatbelts. Pull, pull, pull the belt, hold it, then click. Then, pull, pull, pull it tight. For several weeks I gave a final check until I was confident that the belts were straight and tight. My back thanked me very much for not having to lean into a car, across two kids to click seatbelts. And I admit I am a little thrown when we carpool a kid who still can't do it, so I teach him/her how. They can do it! Let 'em!
Working the TV/DVD Player/AppleTV: "Wallie, push the button that looks like a house...yes, that one...take out the DVD...put the new one in DON'TFORCEIT!...Now push the button that looks like a sideways nose, the triangle button...It'll start...NODONTPUSHITAGAIN...just WAIT...it'll start....I said wait!" You know what? That is BULLSHIT. Bunny is our official AV Kid and that's how I like it. As long as she asks permission before renting or buying any movies on AppleTV, she can pretty much run the TV viewing show in this house. (It's not a free-for-all, they have designated TV times and have specific shows they can watch, but not having to push the TV/Video button to get the TV on the right setting to watch regular TV or DVDs or AppleTV = priceless.)
Pouring their own milk/juice/water/cereal. The first time Bunny woke me up to tell me that she and Wallie had already had breakfast because she got the bowls and the Cheerios and the milk and "made" breakfast for them, I swear I heard a host of angels singing Halleilujah. I think she was around 5 when she did that. And she didn't make a mess. (Thank you hippie Portland preschool that let kids pour their own water or milk into real glasses!) This doesn't happen very often, but just knowing they could fend for themselves if need be is oddly reassuring.
Taking charge of the bathtub. At age almost-7, one of Bunny's chores is to fill and drain the bathtub everyday when it's bath time. I showed her where the knobs need to be to get the water to the right temperature, and she plugs the tub, turns on the water, hops in with Wallie, and then turns it off when the tub is full. They play for a while (Has it really been an hour? You look like prunes!), I come in and squirt soap on their scrubby puff balls, they soap up, and then I wash their hair. They play a little more, then the tub is drained (by Bunny), and out they go. Bath time is a time for me to sneak 20 minutues to myself when they both are home, which is difficult to do. I usually spend it cooking dinner, but it's nice not to have them underfoot for those 20 minutes whatever I happen to be doing.
Getting themselves dressed. From the moment my kids learned how to dress themselves (what is that, age 2 or so?), I have almost completely stopped getting involved in what they wear. I fall into the "as long as they are dressed appropriately for the weather, they can wear whatever they want" camp. Both girls have definite ideas about what they want to wear. Bunny is a pants girl, and only just started wearing dresses and skirts recently, and Wallie has an amazing eye for putting colors and patterns together that actually match. She only wears dresses and skirts, but they have to be "layered" over pants or shorts. I know some parents get really hung up on the "getting dressed" thing, but that one area I can let go. (My hang up is daily baths.)
Putting their own clean, folded clothes away. Both Bunny and Wallie put their own clean, folded laundry away. I started this policy out of sheer desperation when Wallie turned 4 and Bunny was six. One day, I just could no longer face their drawers. I don't mind washing or even folding the clothes. It's the putting it away that blows because you know you are just going to see those same clothes in your face again, covered in paint and melted ice cream, in two days. I make stacks corresponding to their drawers and away they shout, "Bombs away!", as they run back and forth from the laundry room to the their bedroom putting away undies and jammies and shirts and pants. We make it like a game (woo!) and they actually do it. Really, they do. And that makes Mamma especially happy. Now to teach them to hang up their own dresses...
I know that there are more real milestones coming up like learning to make their own lunches or biking to school by themselves or being able to be trusted with a mobile phone or learning to drive a car. I think why the above milestones are so important to me is because as a work-at-home parent and primary caregiver, I have done those tasks about a skillion times each. When you start to be able to get a break, it feels amazing. Not having to fill the tub for me is like getting a mini-vacation every day. Never having to put folded clothes away again? Better than champagne and chocolates. And best of all, it starts kids on a path to independence and self-reliance that I think is a really important life-skill.
What real milestones can you add to the list?