Backtracking: a Mama’s Effort to Postpone the Inevitable.

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Slow Down, Baby.

My daughter has preferred to be vertical for a few months now, though she cannot yet stand.

She fell deeply in love with her johnny-jump-up-seat the very first time she experienced the joys of harnessed bouncing, and she continues to squeal like a madbaby as she pushes up from the earth, twirls and swings and slingshots herself all over the place… she’s made an Olympic sport of it.

She also loves the ExerSaucer, another apparatus that holds her vertically while she practices the fine art of standing. If you pick her up, she stiffens her legs so you have no choice but to hold her under the pits while she uses your arm muscles as unsuspecting braces.  Then she bucks and bumps off of whatever is underneath her little feet while she maintains eye-contact with whomever is holding her, giggling and gummily grinning with drool puddling on her chin and heading in slow rivers downward.

It’s understandable for any adult to want to conserve this sort of maniacally blissful response in a wee one, parents included. Therefore, Opal has spent the last few months, by and large, cultivating the stand-up/sit-up position. Rarely did she spend much time in the horizontal position, which inspired a lukewarm response and put her in a predicament where she wound up hollering for assistance.

Most of the times I delivered Opal-updates that relayed information about our vertical-loving baby, I heard she may just skip crawling all together!…as if that was something to be proud of. As if she were somehow exceptional in her ability to simply skip an entire developmental step.

That is, until I ran into a good friend in the produce section of Whole Foods about a week ago. Her gorgeous year-old son watched us as he vacillated between curiosity and dumping sweet potatoes from a bag while I gave his mama the basic update on Opal I’d gotten so accustomed to giving. Her face became very serious. Oh, she said, you may really want to encourage her to crawl. She went on about how they learn so so much during this developmental phase on the floor: problem solving, deciphering left and right, the body-mind connection as a whole.

She got me to thinking.

When I got home that afternoon, I pulled Opal’s developmental books from the shelf and sifted through them, re-finding what I remembered reading before. They all describe a typical baby’s development very clearly: the find their hands, they roll, they sit up, they crawl, and so on. The books also describe ways to encourage these desired milestones. But nowhere did I find anything on the detriments of skipping a stage. So, it hadn’t even occurred to me to do anything different than support Opal in what she was naturally drawn to.

That afternoon, as an experiment, we decided to cut back on Opal’s time in the vertical position, to backtrack a bit, and really encourage her with floor-play for the foreseeable future.

And in the short time since then, her horizontal skills have absolutely exploded. Previously, she would tentatively roll from back to front, as if uncertain of the outcome of such a bold action.

Yesterday, she did a triple-roll, belly-to-back-to-belly, grabbed my shoe and rolled to her back to examine it before it even occurred to me what was happening! She triple and quadruple-rolls from the blanket we lie down for her, making headway on the real carpet (gasp!) and winding up covered in doghair (note to self to increase the vacuuming). She sets her sights on a toy and goes after it with fearless abandon, pulling, scootching, rolling herself to her target.

Last night, when I went in to check on her, I found her not only having rotated her body 180 degrees in her crib, but also lying on her belly, fast asleep! It’s as if she is becoming re-acquainted with the hands-on floor-world around her, collecting a whole new list of successes as she navigates, baby-pride beaming from her face.

Now, I don’t imagine any huge developmental damage would have occurred if I’d never run into my friend that fateful afternoon, and if Opal indeed continued on the path of vertical-living.

But all shoulds aside, what has really dawned on me is how automatic it is to want to leap forward, to hurry up to the next thing. It’s so easy to feel that progress is good but quick progress is even better.

Things are going plenty fast for me as it is. Opal will be vertical soon enough and for the rest of her living, breathing life (god-willing).

I appreciate having the opportunity, at least on this occasion, to pull back on the reins a bit and savor…exactly where we are.

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About Heather Grimes

Heather is a full-time mama to her five-year-old daughter, Opal. She's also a part-time massage therapist to a variety of lovely folks, with a focus on old ladies. In the gaps, she writes, sews, reads, roller skates, falls, writes more, walks and relaxes with her awesome friends and husband. She also loves to tell stories on stage. You can find her at You can also check out her—now, inactive—blog at:


9 Responses to “Backtracking: a Mama’s Effort to Postpone the Inevitable.”

  1. Heather says:

    i believe it is important to crawl first! here's an interesting article (comments too):

  2. My baby too was uninterested in crawling, and he did not. One result, underdevelopment of eye/vision abilities to focus close (looking down from all fours) to far (looking up from all fours.) Condition was recognized only at age 7-8 when reading was increasingly elusive to an otherwise very bright child. Pediatric Optometrical diagnosis and subsequent exercises – hold one end of 6 foot string to nose, tie other end to door knob, have tot pull taught. Dad slides large colored beads closer to, then further from above mentioned nose while young visual athlete concentrates and focuses (literally) on the colored bits. 3 – 4 months of tri-daily exercising and vision improved substantially, reading ensued.
    Patient 25 years and A-OK. Now has mechanical engineering degree, working full time, pursuing pre-med/ bio mechanical post graduate studies. Still not crawling…

  3. David Schneider says:

    Lovely writing – thank you.
    This link (about Gary Snyder crawling, in his 60's) might say something to those interested in the activity.…

    • Heather Grimes says:

      That article was absolutely gorgeous, David. Thanks so much for sending it and I will happily send it on to many others. Take care.

  4. Linda says:

    Heather, we have not yet met, but I am Mr. J. Grimes's old school marm, Linda, or, as he used to call me, Mrs. Lewis, but folks now think of me as–"Waylon's mom". I just wanted you to know that thanks to grandma Zeb, and to Jill here at the Halifax Shambhala Centre, we have your family photos EVERYWHERE on the Centre's fridge, on my bulletin board, in Jill's office, and of course in our homes. You all win the most photogenic award! Opal is a doll! And all of your eyes are so bright!
    Waylon as a baby had a brief fling with a jolly-jump up until I also realized it made him feel like crawling was work. We had a cat named Mescalita–oh, those were the days–who helped out by getting herself a foot or so away from his head when he was on the floor. At first when Waylon tried to move close to Mescalita, because his arms were stronger than his legs, he'd push himself further away. As he became quite swift at crawling, she'd move further and further away; and when he started using furniture to stand and walk, she went to the windowsills etc. She was a great motivator.
    Soon you or Zeb will have to start sharing videos of Opal!
    Cheers, Linda

    • Heather Grimes says:

      Hi Linda! I love your description of the Waylon/Mescalita dynamic! We also have a great motivator in our home, a canine named Olive. She seems to be keenly aware of what is going on around here. She also rests her speckled paw in that delicious just-out-of-reach, irresistible place and then inches it back at just the right moment. The dog seems to be a much more interesting target than mommy or daddy at the moment.
      That is very sweet about the photos. Certainly helps to have an amazing PR rep like grandma Zeb. Much love.

  5. Laurie N
    just had my daughter read this… the article describes her 4-month-old to a tee!

    Sara P
    my mother claims that it is necessary to crawl to be able to read well–something about the two hemispheres of the brain working together, using the left and the right–anyone hear of that theory?

    Mary B
    I've heard that about the crawling/read theory, but my 5 year old walked before he crawled and only crawled for two weeks. He is on the verge of reading by himself and loves books. I have no doubt he will be a great reader. I think every child is different. And we never did a jump up or exersaucer, he was just doing his own thing. 🙂

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